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BY Peter Droege
LOS ANGELES—A media campaign designed to break through public denial of the tragedy of abortion is generating controversy in Los Angeles.
Trucks bearing billboard-size color photographs of aborted human embryos and early fetuses began circulating on the busy Los Angeles freeway system July 25. In giant letters, the word, “Choice,” offers a stark reminder of the realities of abortion.
As the convoy of four trucks followed by a security vehicle moves along the crowded freeways, about 85% of passers-by turn their heads to look at the images, according to Gregg Cunningham, director of the project, which is called the Reproductive “Choice” Campaign. It is sponsored by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform in Anaheim, Calif.
“We often see people entering into animated discussions about what they have just seen,” said Cunningham. “The reaction of individual drivers typically ranges from anger to stunned disbelief,” he added.
The carefully crafted campaign, which by conservative estimates has now been seen by millions of L.A. commuters, is the result of years of research into movements of social reform in America.
“Shocking pictures have traditionally been used to dramatize injustice ... in the areas of child labor abuses, civil rights for African Americans and the U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War,” explained Cunningham.
Two key elements of a true social reform movement are a commitment to nonviolence under all circumstances and a willingness to endure anger and persecution in communicating an unpopular message, said Cunningham.
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provides a model for anyone aspiring to be a true social reformer,” said Cunningham. “He was committed to nonviolence, even while being subjected to the anger and hatred of those who felt black people did not deserve equal rights under the law.”
“Dr. King understood that it is naive to think that social reform can occur without the idea that the reformers themselves will be reviled,” said Cunningham. “We have to realize that the need to be liked or accepted is incompatible with the pro-life movement.”
Cunningham said he is not immune to the anger and taunts that his work with the Reproductive “Choice” Campaign evokes. He places a higher priority, however, on saving the lives of unborn children than on his personal sense of comfort.
“We all know that proclaiming a difficult truth is no way to win a popularity contest, but if we are ever going to change the minds and hearts of the American people on the issue of abortion, we have to be willing to show the world what ‘choice’ does to unborn children,” he continued.
Cunningham, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, served with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Reagan Administration and as a special assistant U.S. attorney for Los Angeles.
He spent the last 11 years of his 31-year military career assigned to the Pentagon as a reserve intelligence officer, largely involved in strategic planning.
Cunningham's wife Lois is a public health nurse who, in Los Angeles, founded and directed one of the nation's first crisis pregnancy medical clinics. After serving there for more than seven years, she started a second clinic in Hollywood. Both facilities are still thriving.
Lois now helps crisis pregnancy centers around the country transition from a counseling model to a medical model. She has also been active in post-abortion counseling.
“It should be noted that we believe it is important to protect children from exposure to disturbing photos, whether those photos depict aborted babies or any other shocking subject,” explained Cunningham. “That is why we base the trucks in a location that is industrial in its zoning and go out of our way to avoid residential neighborhoods and schools,” he added.
Licia Nicassio, director of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would agree that children should not see these photos. She goes further, though.
“I have never believed we should show gory pictures,” she said.
Nicassio stressed that she was not speaking officially for the archdiocese, but giving her own view of Cunningham's graphic images. She said she had not seen the trucks yet, but that such pictures appeal too much to emotions and not enough to reason.
“There are all kinds of consequences that can come from showing these pictures to anybody and everybody. Assaulting our sensibilities clouds the issue. Nothing is really gained by that,” she said.
Indeed, Cunningham's campaign highlights the fact that pro-life leaders take different approaches to the use of graphic images.
“The proof that America really is against abortion is that you do not see it on television,” says Chris Straub of the Culture of Life Foundation in Washington, D.C. “We are naturally repulsed by the violent death of a fellow human being, so the reality of abortion is intentionally hidden from public view,” he added.
“Seeing these images is upsetting because they tell the truth about what is happening to our fellow human beings,” continued Straub. “Our response should not be anger, but a renewed commitment to reaching out in love to women in crisis pregnancies and those suffering the emotional aftermath of having an abortion.”
Peter Droege writes from Denver. Register staff contributed to this article.