How (then) to end abortion
Updated: Feb 23
In Part 1 we considered some of the most commonly believed myths about how to end abortion. They are easy to believe because they are quite intuitive, and if we were up against a different kind of problem, something other than legalised abortion, they might well be appropriate.
But one of our greatest errors when it comes to trying to end abortion is that we omit to clarify what abortion even is in the first place. What kind of problem is this?
We frequently misunderstand what abortion actually is and so we are prone to apply the wrong solution.
Abortion is not a women's issue, a subset of sexual health, a function of poverty, a rare response to extreme medical emergencies, a result of dysfunctional relationships - though it can and does touch on all of those things. Abortion is the state-sponsored, widely accepted yet barely recognised, industrial scale killing of a disfavoured people group - unwanted babies. It is a genocide, a genocide spanning many decades. And it depends upon the total dehumanisation of that disfavoured people group for its survival.
Understanding abortion in this way allows us to sift through history for answers. Where else have entire people groups been dehumanised and treated as subhuman in a state-sponsored or state-protected programme over a prolonged period of time?
And how did successful reformers reverse and overturn that?
We find upon investigation that injustices of this kind can only be overturned if two major goals are achieved:
1) The victims must be rehumanised.
2) The horrors of the injustice must be exposed.
You have to do both.
Whether it be the transatlantic slavetrade, systematic racism and segregation in 19th and 20th century America, or the Holocaust, the victims were carefully dehumanised through language (e.g. "rats", "pigs"), and attention was drawn away from them and their rights onto the benefits that could be won for everyone else by, e.g., "terminating" them.
The horrors of what was being done were kept comfortably out of sight and out of mind as far as possible.
It's easy to forget what a positive term "ethnic cleansing" once was - now we know what it really means. But the same is happening today, as the horrors of mass baby killing are hidden behind terms like "healthcare" and "reproductive choice".
Successful reformers of the past rehumanised the victims, through words but also, importantly, through pictures. Even before the invention of the Kodak, Clarkson and friends made use of artists' work drawing attention to the humanity of the victims of the slavetrade.
Below: The iconic image popularised by Josiah Wedgwood, friend of Thomas Clarkson (Wellcome Library, London).
But it's not enough to show only the humanity of the victims: you also have to show the inhumanity of the injustice itself, because this too is deliberately kept hidden. People for example could believe that the African was fully human but if they believed the slavetraders' lies that life aboard their ships and on the plantations was peaceful and idyllic, they still would not have any real problem with the slavetrade.
Above: A depiction of Brookes slave ship, packing in hundreds of Africans in cramped and inhumane conditions for long voyages across the Atlantic (PICRYL).
Below: With the help of the recently invented Kodak, the 1904 Casement Report exposed the brutal practice of mutilation and amputation in King Leopold II's Congo Free State, used as a weapon to terrorise the locals into faster rubber collection (badnewsaboutchristianity.com).
WARNING: GRAPHIC HOLOCAUST IMAGERY BELOW (Wikimedia Commons).
Below: More recently, the power of visual evidence was again demonstrated as this picture of Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach changed the way the world viewed the refugee crisis (flickr.com).
Applying This to Today's Great Injustice
Many today believe the lie that the unborn are not fully human, not like you and me. That they can be treated more like an idea, or an organ.
Being a Christian, accepting the biblical view that life has value from conception, certainly helps. But you don't have to be a Christian for an image like this (below: 10-week human fetus) to change how you think and feel about "the pregnancy". Moreover, if you are a Christian already or notionally pro-life, a picture like this brings a new measure of clarity and definition. It can turbo-charge your pro-life-ness, moving you to action.
A video (below) is better still.
But it's not enough to have the "nice" pictures and videos only - because you can still be deluded by all the euphemisms as to what abortion itself actually is. You can believe that abortion is wrong, but you'll still be in the dark as to just how wrong and intolerable it is. You might, for example, still believe that the word "termination" is a fair description. This was where I was at until relatively recently.
Now I can tell you that babies are dismembered, decapitated, crushed, poisoned, starved, and that will do something to help you imagine a bit more accurately what is going on hundreds of times every day in this nation. But nothing has the same impact as showing you.
WARNING: GRAPHIC ABORTION IMAGERY BELOW
(10-week human fetus, victim of "abortion")
More impactful still are videos.
These pictures are not instead of our theology, but rather they connect our theology more directly to the real-life situation and injustice that surrounds us - just as an e.mail from Open Doors with a picture of a persecuted Christian in one of the toughest nations on earth brings home to us their humanity, their plight, and our obligations to them as a neighbour and as a brother or sister in Christ.
I've preached in a few dozen churches on abortion, and I always try to gather feedback. One of the most frequent responses is this: "I had no idea it was like that." Another is specifically how impactful and needed the pictures were, of the violence of abortion. (Others speak of how grateful they are that the presentation is embedded within the gospel and an overarching message of grace.)
We tend to accept the necessity of unpleasant pictures of injustice when it isn't so close to home, as with for example the Holocaust, or when there is already popular consensus that the injustice in question is wrong, as with the graphic video of the death of George Floyd.
But the rules of social reform don't change just because this injustice is uncomfortably all around us or because the culture is against us. It just means that we need to be willing to be the ones to accept the discomfort and persecution that will come, within and without the Church, if we stand up to expose it.
Until people see the unborn as human beings, just like you and me, and until they see the horror and violence of abortion for what it is, they will continue to find abortion tolerable - just as we did the slavetrade, and segregation, and any number of historic injustices. People can have their perspective on this changed with or without more churches being planted, with or without our reputations and bridges still being intact, with or without better social support available.
We must do this with grace, holding out the gospel. We must offer especial love and support to those who've had abortions, and to those who are in a difficult or unexpected pregnancy. We must fight against the kind of shame culture that would encourage secret abortions even within our own churches.
But in all of this we cannot omit to do the very thing without which abortion will never end: we must display in all its majesty the humanity of the unborn child, and we must expose in all its horror the inhumanity of what's being done to them.
Above: You won't be surprised to find that my colleague Aisling Goodison explains how to end abortion far more succinctly and compellingly than I can. This 30-minute video is important. Please watch, digest, and share.
Below: Speak Life with a moving and provocative 7-minute "short" on the same theme.