A year ago, I was against the very thing I just spent my spring break doing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been pro-life, and have never questioned it. It’s such an obvious position to me. But when it comes to using graphic images of aborted children, well, I had always been told it was sort of counterproductive. And I tended to agree.
Enter Created Equal.
I was told by Northern Right to Life, Northern Kentucky University’s pro-life group, that they were coming to campus. Even though I was hesitant of the method, I still thought I should go offer my support to anyone who was giving of their time to do this work. It was far from the first time I had seen abortion images, so it didn’t strike me so much. But I came back later when it wasn’t so busy and found someone who looked official. I didn’t tell Jami Beer that I was unsure of using images, just thanked her for what she was doing. She then invited me on something called a Justice Ride over spring break. I never gave it much thought for awhile.
Fletcher Armstrong wanted to bring the Genocide Awareness project to NKU, and we had to vote on it. So he gave a presentation on why graphic images are used. It was enough for me to vote yes. He went into more depth during training, and it began to make a lot of sense to me. There are plenty of writings on this subject (check out createdequal.net), but in a nutshell, the pro-life movement is drawing from prior movements such as abolition, civil rights, drug awareness, and things such as the Holocaust Museum that all use graphic victim images to depict the reality of atrocities done. And images stick with people better than discussions. As Jami told us in our Justice Ride training, “Going to a debate without images is like going to a trial without evidence.”
I put in a couple days with GAP, and still have a few people that won’t talk to me. It was my first experience of that sort, and helped me learn some things. Afterwards, I stumbled upon Created Equal’s brochure and remembered my invite to the Justice Ride. And suddenly I had a lot of questions for my one contact.
Most importantly through it all, I left it all up to God. I prayed that He would guide me. Eventually I knew that decision time was getting somewhat close, so I began to pray with no presuppositions or biases of my own, just that He would show me what His will was. As I walked around campus the second night praying just that, I was not really paying attention to where I was going. I walked up a stairwell and spotted the Cemetery of the Innocents display NRTL had up, representing the 3,300 babies aborted every day. I said, “Yeah, I need to go on this.” After that it was parental clearance and logistics, greatly helped by the fact that a fellow NRTL member also decided to join the Justice Ride.
I believe the Justice Ride was the quickest social situation I’ve been that I was able to jump in and make friends. I typically like to observe things, so for me to jump out and unleash the full fury of my personality was a great experience in and of itself. I believe that was helped by everyone else being pretty outgoing as well, due to the nature of our work, and as one rider told me, we were all seeing each other at our most vulnerable. To go from knowing two on the Ride to having a bond with everyone, literally everyone, was memorable.
In fact, there were so many memorable moments I could not possibly recount them all. Many cannot be fully understood unless one was there. There was greeting newcomers in a sleeping bag and awkwardly staring across the bus. Wiping the juice from my apple on another guy’s cheeks. Cutting my legs diving repeatedly during volleyball. (Although those injuries were minor compared to others losing a toenail and spraining an ankle.) Finding the sneakiest locations to leave “drop cards”. One Rider accidentally asking a man if he’d gotten an abortion instead of a flyer, then him tweeting about it (it’s amazing how much harder we were ripped apart on Twitter). Late night hangouts, story sharing, devotions, and worship.
Then there’s everyone’s personal favorite. As my fellow NKU student came down the stairs, he left the man of one of our host homes stuck in the corner of where the stairwell turns. So the man got on all fours and attempted to crawl past. I, seeing someone on all fours, assumed it was a Justice Rider, subsequently sat on his back and slapped him while yelling “giddy-up”.
We slept in others’ homes and in churches, on floors, chairs, and pews. We went days at times without showering. While I’d be lying to say these thoughts didn’t cross my mind, it didn’t bother us too much. Because it was all worth it.
Amongst growing continually closer and creating stories we’ll be too embarrassed to tell our children, we had five structured days of outreach. Not meant as an end, it was merely practice for a lifetime of pro-life work.
I spent collective hours talking to diverse people at North Florida, Florida, and Central Florida. I met fellow pro-life people who were greatly encouraging in what could be trying days. I spoke with a man who is bringing flyers back to his church and prayed with me. Another followed Created Equal down from Minnesota, hoping to start his own work. Others I got signed up to mobilize. A few stood where I stood a year ago, and I was able to give them an explanation for why images are used. One girl in particular was pro-life but didn’t know how to defend it very well. She took notes as I answered common arguments for her, and I encouraged her to contact Created Equal for more information.
I truly enjoyed being able to talk to pro-choice people as well. I made a few mistakes, which we were then able to discuss and help us learn from. I talked many into corners, who then walked away or began to sound illogical. One man said, “But the Constitution gives us the right to do what we want with our bodies.” I asked him where that was at in the Constitution, and he left.
Another few played right into our ageism argument but would not relent.
“So you’re saying life begins at conception, but it’s okay to kill an unborn person but not a born one?” I asked.
“Because, we’re born. I don’t know how else to put it.”
Many others still were very respectful, and said they’d been given something to think about, while others said they probably won’t change their minds. Others were more belligerent. One straight-up denied the unbiased scientific evidence I presented him, then refused to research it himself. We attracted “feminist” protesters once, and we cannot even recollect the number of middle fingers we were shown. Three women just at Central Florida told me I couldn’t have an opinion because I am a man. What my sex has to do with personhood, we can leave to their sexist tendencies.
But most of that was expected. There was one thing more than anything else that took me by surprise. On the first day of University of Florida outreach, I found one girl to be pro-choice. Upon her defining pro-choice for me, I asked her why she held that opinion. “Because I had an abortion when I was 16.” For a few seconds and about the only time on the trip, I was speechless. Sure I’d heard, even met women that have had abortions. But I’d never had one just admit it to me like that. She went on to explain that she was pregnant at age 15 and had no way to raise a child, that she regrets it but has finally come to terms with it and is okay with it, and couldn’t see any other option. She also mentioned that the images were hard to walk through, because it was the first time she’d seen that since her abortion. (First, this is proof that abortions are that terrible for women and that barbaric on children, and that our images are real.) I knew I had a touchy situation, and couldn’t be so forthcoming with my arguments. I reinforced that I in no way judged her and that she was in a bad position, and told her why we used graphic images. I was then able to tell her why I am pro-life (that biology and embryology tell us we are human from the moment of conception, and because we are created in the image of God all life has value) and leave her with a brochure.
That is one of the most common arguments against using images, but allow me to make a first-hand case for them. When I first looked back at Created Equal a couple months after their visit to NKU, I found that a guy in my dorm had changed his mind because of what he had seen. The first day at U of F, a Hare Krishna approached our director, Mark Harrington, before we had even set up, and told him he “never knew the fetus was a person”. Another person called an unborn human a “mini-me” and completely changed his mind. The images played a large role in the first mind God helped me to change on the spot as well.
The second day at Florida, I was able to talk to a lot of internationals. A girl from Russia or Ukraine was pro-life in part because she was born when her mom was 17 (a high-risk abortion pregnancy). I went around with men from Senegal and Germany as well. But it was Brian from China who switched sides. He thought abortion was not good, but necessary for things like financial problems or overpopulation (he mentioned his home country). I used the tactic of comparing the born to the unborn, where most would consider it wrong to kill a born person in the same circumstances. He thought that wrong. I asked him when he thought human life began, to which he wasn’t sure. I pointed to an aborted 20 week fetus and asked him if it looked human. He said yes, in a sincere and concerned voice. I then pointed to a six-week aborted child and asked again, and again he said yes. I then explained the Law of Biogenesis to him (unique DNA at the moment of conception), and asked him if it is okay to kill them at any age. “No, I think it’s wrong.” And he went to class, his mind converted for the saving of life.
At Central Florida, another mind, possibly two, were changed on the spot. One guy thought abortion was wrong but that it should be legal due to “back alley abortions”. I told him we know rape and murder are wrong, but don’t make them legal to make them safer for the rapists and murderers. “You got me on that one.”
The other was a girl who walked by and told me she was pro-choice; however, she was not a belligerent type. She was quite friendly and conversational. We went back and forth on a few points, and I ended up asking her when she thought human life began. She said she hadn’t thought about it that much. I then explained the Law of Biogenesis. Then I implemented a tactic Luke Harrington, our director's oldest son, had told us about. I asked her name.
“Annie, nice to meet you, I’m Joe. So when did Annie become Annie? Was it when you were 10 weeks old and your brain started to form, or was it at the moment of conception when your DNA was formed and all of your traits were decided?”
“Wow, I’d never thought of it that way.”
“So is it ever right to kill those human beings?”
“No, no it isn’t.”
There were so many arguments we could have gotten into this week. So many tangents we could have gone into. Just one example were the “pro-all-life” vegetarians that talked to me, quoting Bible verses out of context while ignoring other parts, and the fact that they’re still killing plants. But we always had to bring it back to personhood, and who the unborn are. This allowed even a protester’s mind to be changed at Central Florida.
We also had to be so careful to be respectful. There is such a stigma created by the left, militant pro-choice groups, and radical feminists that pro-life people are bigots, misogynists, and will be extremely hateful with their viewpoints. Anyone who was the slightest open-minded realized that was not the case, at least not with us. We always shook hands and exchanged names after conversations, and never raised our voices. Even in the midst of getting chewed out, Seth Drayer was still able to bring an irate woman to the proper person to show we had a right to be there. One person, at first slightly hostile, later told his gathering friends listening to us debate that I was “actually really respectful and cool”. (This entire group of about eight students was arguing to me that any human being that does not have a fully developed brain cannot be considered alive. They claimed philosophy should play an important role in defining life. I countered it has nothing to do with defining life, that biology and embryology do. A male’s brain does not fully develop until around age 30. Why do they believe this? Because their philosophy professor repeatedly tells them. Imagine a liberal professor indoctrinating a class.) People for some reason did not expect us to be civil.
It’s that indoctrination that made high school outreach worthwhile. This was only part of our day Thursday, and was limited due to the schools being on private property. But we could still see the looks from those that passed by as we held signs, and the many who honked and waved in support. There were, of course, those who flipped us off, and one who threw his drink at a chaperone, but again, this is expected.
The other half of Thursday was also in Ocala canvassing the city with flyers with a photo of the abortion “doctor" in town. The belief behind “Killers Among Us” is that serial killers should not be able to live normal lives. This all culminated in front of the Ocala Women’s Center, the abortion mill. There we held signs to the street and prayed.
Standing outside of abortion clinics was also something I had been weary of in the past (though the mill we were at was closed that day). My mind completely changed this week as well with the story of one young woman on the Justice Ride. She was supposed to be aborted, but her mother met people outside the clinic. Her mother still went in, but couldn’t go through with it. Though our fellow Rider has not had an easy life, she told us she wouldn’t change anything. Pro-choice people tell us she shouldn’t be alive. Never again will I be skeptical.
While certainly not all of the opposing side is full of hatred, I saw plenty of it over this past week. But all we gave was compassion, care, and love. That is a fundamental difference. We know the truth and stand for it. The photos speak for themselves, and for those that need a little more, we step in a say something. That was a great thing this week- being with people as passionate about the pro-life movement as me. People who will take a little ridicule to make a big difference. People who love God and others and aren’t afraid to show it. I am worn out and sick after a long week, but I am also refreshed.
One other thing blessed my heart. High school teens. There were more Justice Riders in high school than college. Some two or three years my junior. And they were boldly going out and taking a stand for the greatest human rights issue of our time. For something we all believe so dearly in fighting. When I was in high school, I had beliefs, but seldom stood for them. These young people are years ahead of me, and I am excited about locking arms with these in my generation to end this genocide.
What I have learned and witnessed this week has forever impressed itself upon me. I can never relent. I don’t want to relent. Don’t let me relent. Northern Kentucky better be ready, because Joe Bermingham and I have signs and training, and we’re ready to go. I'm more pro-life than ever, and all-in for victim imagery.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” –William Wilberforce