by Cana Donovan
Youth Protecting Youth has a reputation at UVic for showing photographs of victims of abortion. I’ve been asked many times (even though, during the time I’ve been UVic, our freedom of expression has been unconstitutionally limited and we haven’t used large, visible signs): why? Why show such bloody and horrible pictures? Why force people to look at something so painful?
Honestly, I hate those pictures.
I see them so often that I have to learn to deal with seeing such a sickening reality. I have to block off my emotions to a certain degree when I look at those photos. But there’s still many times when I pause, and look, and the full horror of what abortion is crashes into me. I have a vivid memory of holding one particular sign, showing an aborted fetus, and this unnamed child’s hands were splayed in the upper-right corner of the sign—right where my hand sat, holding it upright. I glanced down and saw my hand over the baby’s felt my heart squeeze into a little ball at the sight of that poor child who never got to hold anyone’s hands because theirs was ripped off.
So why do we insist on showing these photographs? Why don’t we silence abortion and hide it under the rug and just show pictures of smiling babies, instead?
I’ve done a lot of activism with abortion victim photography, both on and off campus, but I’ll always remember the first time I stood with those photos, doing a project called “Choice” Chain outside of a high school.
After a week of intensive training with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (who I was doing a co-op with), myself and two other interns launched right into activism—after all, the best way to learn is by doing. We clutched our signs tightly and instinctively stood close together. It was tempting, at times, to use the signs we held as a shield of sorts, as a way to separate ourselves from the chaotic miasma of pain and anger that we faced.
Soon we were moved apart by the knots of high school students that surrounded us. I remember being surrounded by at least twenty teens, most of them screaming at me, calling me names or just shooting out questions at rapid-fire speed. Talking with a crowd like this is a learned art, and I floundered slightly, trying to address everything they said.
I remember the boy who geared up to spit on me. I remember telling myself not to hide behind my sign, but to hold my head high; telling myself not to flinch. He was stopped only by the camera we keep for cases just like these—he knew he was about to do something wrong and didn’t want that on record.
The thing is, when I look back on that day now, all those things become background noise. What I remember most vividly is the girl who came up to me while the crowd was focused on another one of the interns and asked me to explain why I was there, in front of her school, showing such bloody and horrific pictures. She asked me to explain why I called myself pro-life. So I did: I explained that I believed in human rights, rights which apply not only to some humans, but to all humans, regardless of how old they are. She listened attentively and nodded, asking questions along the way, truly wanting to understand my position.
A few minutes into our conversation another angry person came by. This woman wasn’t a student but a parent who was affronted that her daughter might have to see what abortion does. She grabbed the girl’s arm and told her, interrupting me, “You know what you need to do? Just turn your back on these people. Don’t look at their signs and ignore them!”
The girl pulled her arm away and said, “Calm down, I’m just trying to talk with this girl.”
When the woman persisted, continually butting into our conversation with angry expletives, the girl sighed and walked around to the sidewalk behind me so that we could continue our conversation peacefully.
It was then that she shared her story with me. The CCBR had been to her school before, and she had seen the signs, and been deeply affected by them.
She told me—this young, beautiful, and bright girl who couldn’t have been older than fifteen or sixteen—that two years previous she’d had a son. She told me how she placed her son for adoption and that it was the hardest thing she had ever done. She told me how seeing our signs brought up all the pain of that separation to the surface, how she was one of the students who screamed at us, who went back inside her school and had an emotional breakdown.
The signs we held, photographs of the suffering of abortion victims, drew people to us and into conversations. The signs take hold of pain caused by a pro-abortion culture and draw it to the surface.
This young girl didn’t have one, and yet the reality was something she couldn’t ignore, something so pervasive in her school and the culture around her that she was deeply affected by it.
At the end of our conversation, we shook hands and she thanked me for coming to her school and for showing the photos. She thanked me for listening to her and for sharing the pro-life position with her. Finally, she told me that she agreed with me: that, even in the cases of young mothers like herself, abortion was never the right response to a difficult situation.
In the end, that’s why we show these photos. The only voice that these children have is the evidence of what was done to them—the brutal depictions of lives ended far too soon, ripped or suctioned to pieces. And every time that evidence is bared, people react strongly—and people change. Countless lives have been saved and countless hearts and minds have been irreversibly affected when they came to understand the truth of abortion.
It’s a hard truth to face. I know this just as well as anyone. I knew it when I spoke to that girl, and I knew it when my hand cupped that of an innocent child’s, wishing what I held was living and well. And I know that if we don’t do something to stop it, more and more children—three hundred every single day in Canada alone—will end up dismembered, decapitated, and disemboweled, their human rights thrown in the trash along with their broken bodies.