The image that sticks

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When I was a child, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, my mother came home from church or a prayer meeting – some religious gathering – with a manila envelope. She said the photos inside were disturbing, and asked if I wanted to see them. I said yes.

Both pictures were ghastly – the remains of aborted babies, the stuff of nightmares. I won’t describe them in detail – I’m sure readers won’t want those images embedded in their dreams, as they have been in mine. From that day forward, I’ve never been free of them.

I’m not a visual person. I have a rich intellectual memory, but a poor emotional one. Not many images from my childhood are branded into my brain, but those will stick with me until my dying day.

Was my mother right to show me those photos? To some degree, innocence was sacrificed to an ugly reality. But a decade down the road, studying for an English degree at a university with an unrelentingly pro-choice culture, I was never swayed. When a column in the university newspaper celebrated one woman’s decision to abort and get on with her life vs. another woman’s choice to have a baby, I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my disagreement.

And then, a few years later, in a grad school environment even more disapproving of pro-life beliefs, I still held onto my convictions. When a fellow grad student, an avowed feminist, found out she was pregnant with a boy, she contemplated abortion. I hope I wasn’t the only friend who talked her out of it.

The reason I have never wavered in my pro-life views is very simple: I saw a picture of death, a genocide in miniature, with the bland caption, “One morning’s work at an abortion clinic.”

All the abstract talk about “reproductive rights,” bodies and choices is enough to satisfy the unthinking, the uncaring, the impressionable or those who simply absorb and reflect prevailing views. Others believe a woman has an animal right to kill her young, with no regard for the humanity and independent selfhood of the young. I don’t know how to change their minds.

What I do know is seeing the hideous reality of abortion at a formative age has shaped my worldview, cementing my conviction. If I know little else in this world, I know one thing: Abortion is death, gruesome for both mother and victim. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.

Even when a woman finds herself in a desperate situation, there is always a better option, for both her and her prenatal child. And, lest we become self-righteous, we must reflect on whether we are simply condemning an act, or whether we are contributing to a lasting solution for women with nowhere else to turn.

Watching the movie Unplanned is probably a similarly haunting experience. Although I haven’t seen it, I’m glad there’s enough support for the movie – and enough controversy generated – to force it into the mainstream conversation. When I see newspapers like the New York Times cover the movie, I feel hopeful.

My father-in-law, a doctor who has delivered many babies, once asked me why I think abortion will someday be illegal in this country. I told him, “Because it’s too ugly. Even those who support it don’t want to think about what it really is.”

I stand by that, and I’d challenge anyone who is pro-choice – especially anyone who is Christian and pro-choice – to watch the movie. To paraphrase what former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson has said in more than one interview, you should know what you are supporting.

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