Well I’ve never been more nervous to click publish in my life. This piece is an “in house memo” if you will to others who share my belief that abortion is the denial of a child’s inherent right to life. If you are one of my readers who is pro-choice, understand that I love and respect you and believe that you act from good intentions. I also think you are wrong. I would expect you could say the same to me. I will not debate abortion in a comments section because it is a deeply emotional and personal matter that cannot be spoken about well in that context. If you would like to speak to me about it however let me know and we can find a better way to discuss our differences.
Dear Fellow Pro-lifer,
I have wanted to write you this letter for some time but I have been afraid. I have been afraid to be chastised by you, I have been afraid of seeming to condemn you. I have also been ashamed, because to do so I must reveal things I do not like about myself and will always regret. I have said before that I believe there is room in the pro-life movement for all moral tactics in defending life. If one approach saves a life and something else saves another then we are right to have both. I know some images of aborted children have swayed hearts and minds. In light of the recent videos from CMP it is quite clear that shocking visuals can open a national debate. As a student of history I believe atrocities must be recorded. As a lover of truth I acknowledge you share the reality of what happens in an abortion clinic over and over every day. However, in a nutshell, I wish to make you aware that your images sometimes have a different effect on those who see them than you intend.
The first time I saw a picture of abortion was as a freshman in college attending the March for Life. As we walked down the streets of DC, I was overwhelmed with a sense of hope. I had never realized how many other young people were willing to stand up for the unborn. My mood was elated. Then I walked past a poster of a dismembered fetus in a dish. Suddenly I was filled with disgust. And here comes my first confession, I was not filled with horror at abortion. I was viscerally disgusted by the baby. In fact my thought was “Oh God, what is that thing.” I looked away, and made sure to always avoid those images in future. Not because it disturbed me that people perpetrated such evil; that had always been the case. No. I looked away because I was revolted by that disgusting Thing lying there in a mess of blood in a dish. It was the first time in my entire life that fetus had not seemed synonymous with baby. It was alien, other, and utterly repulsive. It looked like that “mass of tissue” pro-choicers insisted on talking about.
Well, for a long time that was the end of it. I was deeply ashamed of my feelings, but I knew I was pro-life. I heard that some people were shocked into facing hard truths by those pictures. Why share with anyone that I, who loved the unborn, felt not pity but an involuntary abhorrence when looking at them? Years went by. I had four children of my own. I heard of friends’ miscarriages and mourned their children with them knowing those were human persons gone forever. Then at a 19 week ultrasound for our fifth child they told me he was terribly small and not getting enough blood flow. At 21 weeks we returned to make a plan to save him. He was already dead.
I wept for my lost child. But I also felt an overwhelming fear. I screamed, “I can’t, I can’t.” Most of what I meant was: I can’t endure the pain of this loss. But I also meant: I can’t bear to face one of those strange alien things from the posters. I feared seeing my baby. I feared that I would see him and he would repel me like all those images of aborted fetuses. What if I, his mother, rejected him because he seemed hideous?
Luckily I talked to my husband over the internet. He was stationed in Guam at the time and I told him my shameful secret: I did not want to look at our son. He told me about his brother who had died at a similar age and who he had seen as a young teen. He gently explained that I did not have to look but that he thought I should, that I would regret it if I did not, and that I would not have the reaction I expected.
Still I went into the hospital worried. When the baby was delivered there were complications and I needed immediate surgery. Before I was wheeled from the room they asked if I wanted to see Charlie. I said not yet, later. So it was that I was not the first person to hold my son. My wonderful aunts held him and blessed his body and waited with him until I awoke from surgery. Then I prepared myself and they brought him to me.
He was beautiful, a beautiful little boy in every way. I held him. I marveled at his hand resting softly in mine. I kissed his cool forehead. I hugged him and whispered to him. Still it will always be one of my greatest, most painful regrets that I was too scared of my son to do him the honor of holding him first. When we lost our sixth child nine months later at 17 weeks gestation, I desperately desired to hold him immediately. I knew what a wondrous little child he would be. He was snuggled up just sleeping with the most breathtakingly beautiful little toes and a faint smile on his lips. I hope Charlie understands that when I held Samuel I tried to make up for the way I had failed his older brother.
You see, your images, meant to inspire a sense of the enormity of taking a human life and the brutality of those who do so, had made me afraid of my own son, made me treat him as a terrifying foreign creature and not a baby boy. Now it is not you who dehumanized the child in those images and videos. I know that. He was killed by others who destroyed his dignity as a person. But I want you to know that where you may see one thing, others may see something else. If I, a deeply pro-life woman, could be made to feel this way then surely some others who have hardened their hearts already against the unborn feel similarly. They are repulsed, they are angry. It is a natural instinct to turn away from horror, to protect ourselves from it even at the expense of intellectual honesty. They see a shattered, torn mess and not a human child. They see that child as less related to the human family, not more.
So why am I writing this? I guess I just want you to know. Perhaps this will change the times and ways in which you use these violent images. Perhaps it will help you to understand the attitudes and reactions of those you are trying to sway, which can seem to us callous, obstinate or blind. Perhaps it will prompt you to balance imagery that documents the atrocities perpetrated on the innocent with imagery that emphasizes the inherent beauty of those innocents. For example, you may be surprised to know that I cherish and share pictures of my two sons. Photos like these I think reveal the dignity of the fetus and the relationship of mother and child. One in four pregnancies ends in loss and the indescribable pain and confusion of mourning a child’s death in a world where many do not acknowledge their short life. Many other women are considering abortion in a world that portrays unwanted children as frightening, invading, inhuman creatures. If anyone else has felt the revulsion and fear I felt, I want to assure you, most certainly, that a child meant to be in the womb, still being knit together by God, is a truly beautiful, human, fragile yet perfect person.
Sincerely In Christ,