Last week I wrote a response to Kristan Hawkins’ recent article on the use of so-called graphic images in the anti-abortion movement. In that article, Hawkins argued against the overuse of abortion victim pictures in pro-life advocacy. My first response addressed tactical and factual errors in Hawkins’ piece. I am writing today to provide a respectful response to some logical errors contained in the piece.
The first of four serious logical errors in Hawkins' piece concerns her assertion that abortion victim pictures are not the “be all and end all” of abortion advocacy. This is a misguided demand that evidence be judged, not on the basis of whether it is relevant, but, instead, on the basis of whether it is dispositive. One reason this argument does not work is that relevant evidence usually is not dispositive. Even a murderer’s confession may be subjected to scrutiny as to whether it was coerced.
Another reason Hawkins’ argument does not work is that abortion victim pictures sometimes are dispositive. I am one of those former pro-choicers persuaded solely by the images. After I saw an abortion procedure via ultrasound no further argument was necessary. The case was closed. The film showed me that pro-abortion choice advocates had been lying to me about that “blob of tissue.”
Hawkins’ second serious logical error appears in a disjointed paragraph in which she asserts that people who have been complicit in abortion will not speak out about how Planned Parenthood betrayed them until after they “seek healing.” Here is Hawkins’ reasoning: “Because if you’ve been complicit in abortion, you cannot say abortion is bad or wrong – because that would be saying you are bad or you are wrong.”
This is just demonstrably false. Imagine someone told you to fire a shotgun into an empty barn. Further imagine that you turned on the light in the barn and discovered you had just shot an innocent person who was sleeping inside. Would you conclude that you were a bad person? Or would you be angry with the person who had deceived you by telling you that no living person was inside? And how would you feel about displaying pictures providing evidence of that deception?
Hawkins’ third logical error occurs in another disjointed paragraph where she asserts that young people must have their hearts prepared and “ready to accept” so-called graphic images. This bad conclusion is built on a foundation of two faulty premises: a) that people who espouse relativism never consider facts, or as Hawkins says, using “plain facts just doesn’t cut it anymore.” And b) that abortion victim pictures constitute an appeal to facts rather than hearts.
How do I know Hawkins is wrong? I’m glad you asked.
At about 10 a.m. on March 7, 1996, I walked into a prison in Quito, Ecuador as an atheist who believed in the concept of cultural relativism. I also championed the cause of so-called anti-ethnocentrism. Then, shortly before noon, the two prison guards who were leading my tour of the prison accidently led me into a room where a prisoner was being beaten with a wooden bat.
When I walked into that room I saw the two guards pinning the prisoner against a wall. A third guard was striking him so hard that it sounded like his bones were breaking. He was not striking the prisoner on the soft area of his rear end. The guard struck him around his ribs and on the back of his thighs. That cracking sound haunts me to this day.
When I walked out of that prison in the early afternoon I was a former atheist and a former relativist. Students for Limbs did not have to prepare my heart for the transformation. Seeing a bone cracking beating of a man languishing in a dung-infested prison was enough. Anyone not moved to sadness and anger by such a visual image simply doesn’t have a heart to begin with.
Some may ask whether the above example applies to the abortion victim picture controversy. Sure it does. I’ll tie it in with the next point. Just keep reading.
Hawkins final logical error revolves around the false premise that conversation and relationships must precede the introduction of pictures in order for the latter to be effective. Hawkins says “the real culture change, the one that must take place in order for us to transform our culture to reject abortion, will happen through personal conversations and relationships.” Hawkins is again over-stating her case. Let me provide an example.
I have been involved in a four-year conversation on abortion with a friend of mine who is both younger and much more politically liberal than I am. At the beginning of that conversation he fully denied the humanity of the unborn and supported abortion with no restrictions whatsoever. That conversation was put on hold for three months (as it is every summer) while I was away in Colorado.
When I returned in August, my friend met me at a local cigar shop to watch a baseball game. He sat down next to me and said “Well, I’ve come a long way on the abortion issue.” He then announced that he had changed his position to pro-life with exceptions only for rape and preservation of the life of the mother. In other words, he now opposes abortion in about 98% of the cases, not 0%. I call that progress.
Naturally, I asked ask him what had brought about the sudden change. He looked at me and told me that it was the Planned Parenthood videos. Next, he launched into a torrent of profanity. He never said a word about the wine sipping or the dialogue. It was the images that stirred his emotions and then changed his position.
This is the way it should be, ladies and gentlemen. We should fight abortion just the way we fought slavery and lynching – by boldly using visual evidence as a means of igniting hearts, fueling anger, and provoking conversations and conversions.
In other words, we really don’t need new strategies for a new generation. We just need to be courageous and stay the course.