This week I am sharing a series of articles by Lincoln S. Brandenburg regarding protecting the sanctity of human life.
Note: Elective abortion takes the life of an innocent human being during his/her earliest stages of development. This being the case, it is the greatest human rights abuse of our time, taking over 1 million lives in the US and 40 million worldwide annually. This series of articles examines the methods that social reformers have used to successfully change society’s apathy towards the oppression of others, and how to apply them to the contemporary injustice of abortion.
Like obscene graffiti on a cathedral wall, glaring human rights abuses mar our perception of otherwise civilized societies from the past. How could the citizens of Germany – the birthplace of the Reformation – tolerate the slaughter and persecution of the Jews just one lifetime ago? How could Christians in the UK and the US less than two centuries ago permit (not to mention, participate in) the buying and selling of dark-skinned human beings?
And yet, from our reclined perspective atop our 21st-century Lay-Z-Boys, we lose sight of the hard work it took for social reformers to make the changes that we take for granted today. We enjoy living in a free society the same way young children enjoy living in their parent’s house-completely oblivious to the sacrifices (and mortgage payments) that make it possible.
“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Today, one can scarcely drive through any American city without passing a street, boulevard or avenue named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the only person (besides presidents and Jesus) whose birthday is a federal holiday. And yet, during the time he lived, he was widely considered a troublemaker and an extremist. And not just by his enemies: his magnum opus “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written to pastors who agreed with his goals, but who believed that his non-violent, disruptive demonstrations were “unwise and untimely.”
Nonetheless, Dr. King’s “unwise and untimely” methods proved to be undoing of segregation in our nation. The reason MLK was so effective was because he forced Americans to face racism and to squirm uncomfortably. From Selma to Chicago, the demonstrations he organized forced Americans to see that racism was much worse than what they thought. Newspapers and television showed images of peaceful black citizens being savagely attacked by white police. So much for “separate but equal.”
Dr. King utilized the power of disturbing images because he knew that they work like nothing else. After all, it was the grotesque images of Emmet Till – a 14-year-old black boy who was tortured to death by racists in Mississippi in 1955 – that shook the nation and sparked the civil rights movement in the first place.
Dr. King had also studied history, including the campaign to end slavery in the UK. In that movement (dramatized in the film “Amazing Grace”), William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and other reformers faced a daunting task: convince their fellow citizens that the lives of African slaves were more valuable than Brit’s tea and sugar. This was no small task – it took them over 40 years to realize full emancipation.
On a macro level, the slave trade was wildly lucrative. If “the love of money is the root of all kind of evil,” then these roots went deep. And of course, being filthy, stinkin’ rich meant that the trade’s political lobby had parliament rigged like a game of Mousetrap. No parliamentarian who cared about getting reelected would dare to oppose them. The trade even enjoyed the overseas protection of the British Royal Navy – funded, of course, by Tom Taxpayer. To vote against the slave trade would be to vote against prosperity. And it was anti-patriotic during times of war.
On a micro level, slave-produced sugar was the hot commodity that turned the world. Eighteenth-century Brits craved their sugar like modern Americans worship their overpriced Starbucks coffee (perhaps more, if that’s possible). Sugar in one’s tea or coffee was the perfect companion to the latest Jane Austen novel (both are overrated in this humble author’s opinion).
“The abolitionists’ first job was to make Britons understand what lay behind the sugar they ate, the tobacco they smoked, the coffee they drank.” Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains
The kicker was that the average British citizen, while enjoying the benefits of slavery, never actually saw it’s brutality. Cargo ship captains would purchase slaves along the coast of West Africa, then sail across the Atlantic to the British-owned West Indies. Once there, they sold the slaves that hadn’t died of disease along the way, cleaned out the cargo holds (the putrid smell couldn’t be completely eliminated) and filled it with the slave-produced goods of the islands. Sugar, coffee, rum, cotton and tobacco – not the blood of the slaves who produced them – were what British subjects saw when the ships finally docked in their home ports. Hence, sugar is what came to mind when the subject of “the slave trade” was brought up on the streets or at high-society dinner parties.
In order to end slavery, the abolitionists first had to dispel the euphemisms that distracted from the human victims of slavery. They used disturbing pictures and props – including line drawings and slave ship diagrams which “seemed to make an instantaneous impression of horror upon all who saw…” They were able to gather momentum for their movement and to change the law AFTER they changed public opinion. It was uncomfortable. They were called names. They faced odds that seemed greater than winning the Powerball. But using pictures pricked the national conscience so they did it.
If elective abortion is a human rights injustice, then it makes sense that we study other injustices and those who stood successfully ended them. These examples (and many others) demonstrate that one doesn’t end a great injustice by covering up. We must expose it and make people very, very uncomfortable with it. In the articles that follow, we will explore 1) how pictures of abortion victims are effectively used and 2) concerns that are commonly raised about this method.
“Because there are many excellent ways to fight abortion, but only one way to end it.”