Words are not enough

Frank Pavone, Rev.
National Director/ Priests for Life
April 7, 2001

I recently asked a representative of a major secular news network, “Why not show the American people what an abortion is?” He was intrigued by the question, and we had a good discussion about it. He suggested I should continue asking it, privately and publicly. I intend to.

Ask any audience around the country whether they have seen any kind of surgery on television. Almost all will raise their hands. But if you ask that same audience how many have seen an abortion on those same networks, none raise their hands.

Yet abortion is the single most frequently performed surgery in America. Some claim it is legitimate medicine, and in fact an integral part of women's health. But look at it? Take it out from under the veil of euphemism and abstract language? No way.

Still, there is an even more fundamental and troublesome question to ask, and that is, Why do so many people who oppose abortion also oppose letting it be seen for what it is?

Certainly, showing images of an abortion, and what an abortion does to a baby, has to be done in ways that properly prepare the audience for what they are about to see, and place the matter in the context of the compassionate care which the pro-life movement gives to those who are guilty of an abortion.

Yet even with all that in place, there is still a great deal of resistance to the notion that we should expose the evil for what it is, bringing it into the light of day for the naked eye to see.

If we study social reform movements, we find that they always exposed the injustice they were fighting. The civil rights movement was galvanized, for example, when the 14-year-old boy, Emmett Till, was killed and thrown in the Tallahatchie River. Authorities wanted to bury the body quickly, but his mother insisted on an open casket funeral so the world could see what was done to her boy. Black Americans everywhere saw the mutilated corpse when the photo was carried in Jet magazine.

In the Library of Congress there is an exhibit of about five thousand photographs taken by Lewis Hine. He used these photographs to combat industrial exploitation of children. He said to those who complained, “Perhaps you are weary of child labor pictures. Well, so are the rest of us. But we propose to make you and the whole country so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child labor abuses will be creatures of the past.”

Examples can be multiplied.

Is there something to be learned here by the pro-life movement? Is it time to re-evaluate our assumption that we need to be liked in order to be successful? Is it time to summon the courage to expose the injustice we are fighting, in the same way that successful social reform movements of the past have done?