On Sept. 27, the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform erected a display of abortion victim photos at Boise State University, much to the surprise of the campus and even to the surprise of the university’s pro-life group. The large display also included prenatal development pictures, abortion statistics for black women, and comparison pictures to genocides like the Nazi Holocaust. Warning signs flanked the display.  

Boise State students were noticeably upset, but the photos appeared to be a catalyst for debate. One male student was caught on video trying to convince those around him that society had to kill unwanted babies because there aren’t enough parents to adopt and the system can’t care for so many children. His argument was that economics trumps life. There was also a male pre-medical student discussing why abortion is killing “the most helpless members of our society.”

Idaho pro-lifers debated on Facebook the efficacy of the in-your-face images. Some thought them disrespectful to the dead, saying that abortion images stifled meaningful dialogue. Others said that they should be shown, though not out in public without consent.

 

Showing the Truth

Jack Ames started “Face the Truth” in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2001. During these “tours,” pro-lifers hold giant abortion victim photos at heavily trafficked intersections. What makes the Defend Life (DefendLife.org) approach different from other pro-life groups is that members ardently believe that “if we are not out there showing what abortion is, then we are not going to end abortion,” Ames told the Register.

“Every social, moral evil in the history of America ultimately ended because there were pictures involved.”

Overall, pro-lifers agree that not every public venue is appropriate for displaying AVPs. Monica Miller, who coined the phrase “abortion victim photos” (AVPs) and was recently responsible for the “Red Rose Rescue,” works to emphasize their need as part of the pro-life witness, but adds: “We need to exercise prudence when showing these images.”

Catholic pro-life blogger Matt Walsh comes from an actively pro-life Catholic family. His sister, Joan Walsh — now a Poor Clare who took the name Sister Mary Damiana — was illegally arrested, along with 17 others, during a “Face the Truth” tour. Walsh told the Register he believes signs with abortion images are counterproductive when displayed at abortion clinics. “Shock and fear will likely only drive the women further into the clutches of the clinics,” he said.

Having once been on the inside of the abortion industry, Abby Johnson agrees. “I remember women running into our abortion facility when people were out with graphic signs,” the author of The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories told the Register. “No one ever stopped to talk to the people on the sidewalk. And we at the clinic loved when they were there. It was a great way to build camaraderie with the women. The abortion clinic became the safe place for the women having abortions.”

The March for Life is another venue that Walsh thinks AVPs are not appropriate — or even necessary. “Everyone there already knows the evils of abortion and is committed to opposing it. [Also], I’m generally uncomfortable with them in any context where young children are likely to see them. I think the whole point of the pro-life movement is to protect children, and protecting them also means protecting their innocence.” 

 

Appropriate Arenas

Walsh believes that college campuses are appropriate places to show AVPs. “Society does not have a right to turn its back and look away while millions are slaughtered. I appreciate those who force them [the public] to turn back and face what is happening.”

Sidewalk counseling or one-on-one conversations can be effective times to show an abortion-minded woman an AVP, agree both Johnson and Miller. However, Johnson says she always asks permission from the woman before showing an AVP. “I believe consent is important when showing these images.”

For Johnson, it’s about doing what is most effective in the fight for life. “We have research data, testimonies from post-abortive women and former abortion workers who all state that graphic signs are not the most effective way to reach the hearts of women,” she shared.

 

More Than One Approach

Though not in complete agreement, it is fair to say that each of the four pro-life warriors interviewed believe showing AVPs is useful in varying capacities and that this is still a hot-button issue amongst pro-lifers. Walsh, who believes there is a place for different kinds of approaches in the pro-life movement, said, “I would love to see less bickering within our ranks and more unity. In the end, we all just want to save babies and save souls. We have quite a lot in common, even if we differ in how to go about doing that.”