Choosing Life, Part III

This week I am sharing a series of articles by Lincoln S. Brandenburg regarding protecting the sanctity of human life.

Note: this article is the third in a four-part series discussing the injustice of abortion. If you have not read the previous article, please check it out first.

“He who defines the terms wins the argument.” – Unknown 

“What do you think about abortion?” I’ve personally asked hundreds of people on the streets that question. Thankfully, not all of them have tried to bite my head off! Among those who don’t feel strongly about the issue either way, most responses sum up to one of the following:

“It’s a woman’s body, so it’s her choice.”

“I personally wouldn’t get one, but who am I to tell others what to do?”

“Every child should be a wanted child. We need to take care of all the orphans and kids in foster care first.”

On the surface, these responses sound reasonable – even noble. Conservatives are always whining about big government, right? So why do they want the government to get involved in people’s private decisions just because it involves their pet issue?

Much like the slave trade of the past, the modern abortion lobby has effectively masked their gruesome deeds. They have redefined abortion using noble-sounding euphemisms: women’s health and freedom of choice. 

These abstract terms are the default for the average citizen. Like college football teams, marriage partners and what church one attends (if any), abortion is viewed as a matter of personal preference in terms of civil policy. The government shouldn’t be involved in people’s sex lives.

And like sugar in eighteenth-century England, the modern world revolves around sex. Restricting abortion would place a strain on women’s ability to enjoy unlimited sex without the potential consequence of an unwanted child. Men couldn’t freely enjoy sex without the nagging possibility of alimony payments in the backs of their heads. Americans simply will not accept intrusion into their civil liberties without extreme justification. Just look at the success of the gun lobby.

Given how effectively the victims of abortion have been dehumanized, is it any wonder that such justification does not exist in the minds of so many? An unwanted preborn child is referred to as a “clump of cells,” “tissue” or “product of conception.” In a surgical abortion procedure, the doctor “terminates the pregnancy,” rather than “decapitates and dismembers the baby” (of course, a wanted preborn child is referred to universally as a baby; e.g., “how far along is the baby?” “the baby kicked!” “baby on the way!”)

And so, thanks to the abstract euphemisms and dehumanizing language, we will never end the killing of preborn children by using words alone. Put yourself in the average boots of the average person when they read our pro-life signs and hear our slogans. What we mean is not what they hear:

Choose life! “We’re not saying you can’t encourage someone to carry to term. We’re just saying that people in a free country should have that choice!”

Abortion kills children! “That’s just your opinion. It’s not a child until (insert arbitrary stage of human development).”

End abortion! “End a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body? No thank you! It’s not 1916 anymore!”

I’m not claiming that women have never changed their minds about aborting their child after seeing such slogans. I am calling into question whether using slogans alone will persuade the majority of our fellow citizens that aborting a child is an act so heinous that it ought to be against the law.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Unknown 

As history overwhelmingly shows us (see previous article), the way to successfully end an injustice is to use disturbing images of the victims. Why would the current crisis of children killed by abortion be an exception? When we use abortion victim images, we restore truthful meaning to the word “abortion.” And we substantiate our claim that it kills children, saying in effect, “Don’t take my word for it, believe your own eyes!”

“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” – Joseph Stalin

I have personally been involved in many forms of pro-life activism, from sidewalk counseling to public speaking to protests to marches. But I have never seen anything that changed minds the way that abortion victim images do. People can easily forget what we said to them, but they don’t easily forget what we show them. Think about what moved you the most – hearing the fact that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, or watching the film “Schindler’s List?”

The liberal in me still wants to be pro-choice. But after hearing scientific arguments against it, and seeing pictures of it, there’s just no way I can support it.” – Student at the University of Kentucky

Abortion victim images shown in public produce what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as “non-violent, creative tension.” When my colleagues and I brought the graphic Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) to Auburn University, the pictures set that campus on fire. Pro-abortion protesters came out in droves to oppose us. Ordinary students who were going about their business as usual were arrested by the controversy. They detoured to our display to see what the hubbub was about. And we showed thousands of them that abortion was much worse than what they had originally thought.

At the end of our tour I visited the Student Center to wash up before hitting the road. As I passed students and staff sitting at tables in the cafeteria or walking together down the halls, I eavesdropped just enough to gather some important information: Every single conversation taking place was about abortion. Whether we had converted them or not, we had forced otherwise apathetic students to wrestle with an injustice we had made impossible to ignore.


“A social reformer’s greatest fear is not being hated; MLK and Wilberforce were hated. His greatest fear is being ignored.” – Greg Cunningham, Director, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform

The Auburn story has been repeated at countless campuses and street corners. Pro-life students have told us that “(GAP) reached more students in two days than we would while tabling every day for two semesters.” Tabling, soliciting literature, movie nights and baking cupcakes simply will not reach the numbers of people our movement must reach if we are to end the killing.

“I don’t want to say this too loudly, but you’re really changing the way I think about [abortion].”    –  Student at James Madison University

There are plenty of worthwhile efforts to lessen the killing and save lives: pregnancy resource centers, sidewalk counseling and adoption are all good work that Christians and people of good will should be involved with. But by themselves, non of those activities will end the killing. Historically, victim images have overwhelmingly proved to be effective and necessary. Strategically, using victim images is logical. If we are to be hell-bent on winning – and not just content to save a life here and there – we must utilize the power of the truth.

In the next article, we will address some of the concerns and questions that are often raised about using victim images in public.


Georgia Project Director, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform

“Because there are many excellent ways to fight abortion, but only one way to end it.”

It would be impossible for me to recall and credit specific ideas that I have picked up from so many of my mentors and fellow activists. Special thanks to Greg Cunningham, Dr. Fletcher Armstrong, Scott Klusendorf, Stephanie Grey and the many others who’s wisdom, logic and experience have shaped and influenced the thoughts presented here. 


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