Tomorrow, in the streets of Washington, D.C., there will be many explicit signs depicting the "products of abortion." Many people, both pro-life and pro-choice, strenuously dislike these signs. It's fitting then that I this week received an email asking for my thoughts on those graphic posters:
I came across your blog through Amy Welborn's blog. I am a Catholic mom to 3, and some parishioners in my church are planning to bring in a pro-life speaker (who uses graphic photos of aborted babies) to speak. I don't really know if using those photos is the right approach. I'm sure the speaker's intentions are good. I still don't feel good about her approach though. Perhaps I am not viewing this with wide open eyes and should just back off as this graphic approach may very well be the answer to waking people up to the reality of abortion. As a Rachel's Vineyard retreatant, how would you feel about something like this? - "Jane"Dear "Jane,"
These parishioners perhaps don't fully understand the insensitivity of those graphic photos in that setting. The short answer is: I am strongly against these photos in most settings. More on that in a moment, but I addressed it in part here (text search the phrase "hateful signs").
Perhaps the best thing is to have them read Pope John Paul II's words to women like Emily and me who have had abortions and now regret them:
"...I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion...The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace ... You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child... With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life."I would suggest to them that this is how all Catholics should behave toward post-abortive women, even if you don't know they're in the audience. And they will be, because they are in all our parishes. We should not "discourage" such women by ramming it down their throats what they (and Emily and I) did. Tell your fellow parishioners that as many as 6 out of every 7 women who have had abortions already know full well what they did, if the numbers in NARAL vs. National Right To Life are good indication. Tell them that perhaps as many as 4 out of every 10 women in the pews of your very church have had abortions and are terrified of admitting it for fear of judgment or shaming reprisals. Tell them that many of these women are lectors, Eucharistic ministers, catechists in Rel.Ed. Ask them, "Do we all want all those women to continue living in fear of condemnation when Jesus Christ and his vicar Pope John Paul II said otherwise? Even Jesus forgave the woman about to be stoned to death."
Then quietly ask them if, while such women know that what they've done is the most horrific thing they could ever do and know that it is a regret and grief they can never outlive and that they often punish themselves daily for the rest of their lives over it, is it really providing "friendly help and advice" to use gruesome photos of the truth of abortion? Or is it alienating and UNmerciful? Ask them, quietly, lovingly, "Do we want to be like Christ, or like those picking up stones to hurt the woman of sin?"
I'd ask them to understand that there is a time and a place for the photos: in high school and college science/health/sociology classes when presenting papers on the subject, for example. I have had college students ask me for help on such talks. They initiated borrowing the photos, giving disclaimers so that objecting students were forewarned. That is appropriate use of the photos.
It could be argued that the March for Life is also an appropriate time and place for such photos, due to the public nature of it and the media availability (though they studiously do not pass the photos on to the consuming public, media folk still do see them personally and that is a needed education).
But in my experience, personally as well as hearing from other women like me, those photos at the abortion clinic sidewalk, for example, merely served to drive me/us away from the very people who really could have helped us. I often wonder: would it have been different if those with those signs had not been trying to frighten and/or condemn me? I know that I refused to even look at those posters when I went for my abortion.
It isn't that I now can't face the truth of what I did. I almost threw up the first time I looked at one, decades later: it was when I'd joined some of those very people on the sidewalks in trying to offer compassionate help--this time--to the women going inside. I broke down in tears. I already knew full well what I'd done. But for my praying and for my friends praying for me, I think I would have gone insane seeing those pictures for the first time. I also knew that those pictures long ago had made me flee into the open arms of the abortion clinic workers, thinking they were my safe haven, not those holding the pictures.
I gently would ask your fellow parishioners: do they want to be in part responsible for the same fleeing responses--out of your parish, for example--in other women leaning toward abortion or who have had one already? If "the Father of mercies is ready to give [post-abortive women] his forgiveness and his peace," then ask the parishioners, "Shouldn't we do likewise?
I would ask them to consider bringing in a Rachel's Vineyard retreat director as well as the other prolife speaker, if they won't reconsider the first speaker. Give parishioners a choice of which speaker to go to, holding both talks at the same time in different rooms, for example. Make sure everyone knows which room the graphic photos will be in, so they can avoid that. Make sure that the other room, the Rachel's Vineyard speaker's room, isn't labeled "the post-abortive women room" or no one will attend that one.
You are blessed that your priest and parish are doing anything like this at all, actually. May I suggest that your parish sounds like it could be possible to introduce a small and possibly a large effort there?
Americans On Call and the Gabriel Project sound like they'd be big hits in your parish. The Gabriel Project is in full force at these two parishes. This page tells you if someone's already doing it in your state and area.
These parishioners could be just uninformed. They could also perhaps be a bit like the black-and-white condemning Catholics that my own father was. Had he known about my abortion all these years, I know I would have been disowned.
For women in my same fearful predicament about "coming out" about it to family, friends and/or priest/parishioners, they should know that there is hope though. As my father's life waned, God sent a cousin of his, a staunch prolife lawyer, to me, via a chance encounter. I hadn't seen him since I was in diapers practically. I took a leap of faith and shared my story of denial and repentance with him in a letter. He then spoke to me, and soon after, to my father, telling us both that it was a grace from God that I had come to this point and God was using me for a greater good, making good come out of the bad. My father eventually softened, and some years later, in sorrow, said to me, "Why didn't you come to your mom and me about it?" It wasn't an attack, it was just in sorrow. We both knew the answer: that they (or at least my father) would have condemned and dismissed me. He came to regret that he had been party to such a hostile family environment for me to be so afraid of them. He never really said it, but I knew that's what he meant.
If my father--through God's grace and intervention--could soften his heart on this issue and forgive me, anyone can do likewise.
TO ALL OUR READERS TODAY AND EVERY DAY:
Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of women have begun to find recovery from this grief. There will be hundreds of thousands more finding it. The list of places to turn to for this help is listed at the upper-right of this page, under the heading "RESOURCES FOR HEALING."
Contact any of them, even if it takes you a year to get your courage up (as it did for me). Emily and I are living proof that you'll be glad you did.