Last week, I had the privilege of attending the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. for my third time with 142 other students through Hillsdale College for Life. Like other years I’ve marched, I was surprised by the age diversity. Everyone from the elderly to toddlers marched in peaceful protest against the evil of abortion. And like previous years, I left with the same complaint: the use of graphic images at a certain stretch in the route.
As one walks down Constitution Ave., there is almost always a large video display of aborted children. Bloody images of tiny arms and legs flash on the screen and it’s impossible to ignore. I’m left with a sour taste, as well I should. The gruesome, systematic slaughter of helpless children is what we’re up against. But that doesn’t mean these images are appropriate to display at the March.
Created Equal, the pro-life advocacy group that sets up this display each January, is known for taking smaller displays of these images to college campuses, hoping to spark conversation about what abortion really does to a human life. This can be an excellent asset to the pro-life cause, especially since more than 2 million college students become pregnant every year, according to the national Students for Life. College students are mature enough to handle the reality of abortion.
The March, however, includes family participants, often accompanied by young children. Parents shouldn’t have to decide, on the spot, whether they want their children to see images of mutilated infants. Stepping on the toes of a parent’s right to decide what to tell and show their children about abortion is not at all a problem we should have at the March. The family is at the center of the pro-life movement, and groups like Created Equal ought to take that into consideration when they choose what content they will broadcast to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.
Will these images scar children for life? Probably not, but that’s not the point (though it’s possible such images will negatively affect young children in the moment). Groups that use graphic images in the context of the March are essentially saying they have the right to decide what kinds of things children will see at the March. You might say they’re merely exercising their First Amendment rights. That case can be made, but this freedom must be exercised with prudence and deliberation.
Created Equal’s website lists a number of reasons they choose to show these images at pro-life events, including the March. Graphic images are a good way to get the truth across to people who are both pro-life and pro-abortion, the group argues. That isn’t wrong, but the number of pro-abortion individuals who will see these images is few.
Another argument is that the victims of abortion deserve to be shown and remembered at such events. This is a noble thought, but it doesn’t hold up. If we were protesting a different human rights issue, perhaps sex trafficking, should we show images of the crimes? Doing so in a large-scale demonstration would be wildly inappropriate, as it is in the March for Life.
Created Equal should continue their outreach on college campuses. They’re doing great work for the pro-life movement, and the college context is where their efforts will have the greatest effect. But when it comes to the March, it’s best to show more restraint on what is broadcast to the crowds.
Whenever I think about Created Equal’s images, I’m reminded of a passage from Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiographical story, “The Hiding Place.” Ten Boom, as a young girl, asks her father what “sexsin” is, and rather than giving her a verbal answer, her father sets his suitcase on the floor and asks if she can carry it off the train. After tugging, she gives up and says it’s too heavy.
“‘It would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load,’” she recounts him saying. “‘It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.’”
We shouldn’t force children to bear a load of knowledge they cannot yet handle, nor should we take away the right of parents to bear that understanding for them. Anyone who’s been to the March knows that it’s a breath of fresh air for pro-lifers who are wearied by a world that supports abortion. The use of graphic images can be a good reminder of how awful abortion is even to the most pro-life people, but it should be left for a different time and place.
Nolan Ryan is a junior studying English.