The New Oxford Review on Jonathon Van Maren’s latest book

The following is a review of my latest book, published this month in the New Oxford Review. It is written by Dr. Anne Gardiner and republished here with permission. Anyone who is interested in a copy of Seeing is Believing can find a copy here.

Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion.  By Jonathon Van Maren. Life Cycle Books. 171 pages. $22.95. 

Jonathon Van Maren laments that in North America people are “sleep-walking through a massacre of unfathomable proportions.” Sixty million have been killed, yet the public remains apathetic. He contends that abortion victim photos (AVP) are the best and most powerful tool we have for changing public opinion. Why? “A visual generation in a visual world needs visual evidence,” he says. Tellingly, the mothers of just-aborted babies are “forbidden to see the remains of their children,” for fear that they will glimpse the reality of what they’ve done. Van Maren cites Chesterton: “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not pass through the intellect.” This is especially true when the intellect has been blinded by pro-choice ideology.

Strange to say, many pro-life leaders today are strongly opposed to the use of AVP. They find these pictures “confrontational” and “unloving.” They don’t want to shock and disturb people. But why not? Why should people be “at peace” with the fact that 60 million tiny human beings have been “shredded in the womb and discarded like so much garbage,” as Van Maren puts it? How can it be “unloving” to dissuade a woman from ending a child’s life and wounding herself deeply? Van Maren agrees that angry reactions are inevitable, but they are often the first steps to changes of heart. Why can pro-life leaders accept the use of graphic images to stop drug addiction, smoking, or drinking and driving, but reject their use to stop abortion? Their self-censorship is a “fatal misstep,” since for pre-born children it’s a matter of life or death. Seeing is Believing offers proof that AVP are amazingly effective and therefore absolutely necessary. Sure, they turn people off — but “off of abortion.” Their purpose is precisely to repel. They’re not a form of marketing; they’re a tool for social reform.

In the past, Van Maren explains, effective reformers have never been considered “nice.” Long-standing institutionalized injustices were ended again and again by the use of graphic images of victims. There were half a million slaves in the British Empire when William Wilberforce gave his first speech in the House of Commons in May 1789. It took over 20 years, but he turned the tide by using images of suffering African slaves. Most effective was a 1788 diagram of the slave ship Brookesshowing 482 slaves inhumanly packed like sardines, lying flat and crammed against one another. The diagram appeared in newspapers, books, and posters hung on the walls of pubs and homes, filling viewers with horror. In February 1807 Wilberforce’s bill came up for another vote, and this time it passed. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Similarly, American abolitionists used the famous photo “The Scourged Back,” showing “grotesque ridges and scars” that were “lashed into the flesh of a slave.” Opponents tried to dismiss the image as “fake,” but they failed. It was a brutal fact.

Likewise, at the start of the 20th century, atrocities occurring in the Congo slave state were exposed by photos of mutilated children taken by Edmund Morel and Alice Harris, providing “visual evidence” that Europe couldn’t ignore. Around the same time, the horrors of child labor in American factories and mines were documented by photos of maimed children taken by Lewis Hine. His photos were also called “fake,” as well as “graphic and depressing,” but they helped bring an end to the injustice.

Van Maren shows how the civil-rights movement was launched by photos of the mutilated body of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago. In 1955, while visiting cousins in Mississippi, Till whistled at a white woman and was later killed for it. When his mother obtained his mangled body and put it on display in Chicago, over 100,000 people saw it, and photos of it were published. Four months later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. Why? “I thought of Emmett Till,” she said. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that America needed to see racism in order to reject it.

Today, King’s niece Alveda King calls the pro-life movement the “logical successor” of the civil-rights movement and says it must likewise use photos of the victims. Van Maren observes that this might be “the first major social reform movement that faces the active opposition of the media.” While abortion supporters emphasize “choice,” they want to hide the evidence of “what is being chosen.” They know their abstract rhetoric of “reproductive rights” will fall flat once the photos of aborted children are seen. Oh, they may claim that the photos are “fake” or “doctored,” but in vain. AVP reveal the truth of how abortion “dismembers, decapitates, and disembowels a human being.” Graphic photos and videos have caused many people to leave their jobs and join the pro-life movement full time, including Joseph Scheidler, Scott Klusendorf, Troy Newman, Mark Harrington, Lila Rose, and David Daleiden.

Van Maren, who has seen thousands of minds changed by AVP on college campuses, explains that Americans suffer from cognitive dissonance: We know that the child in the womb is human, but this knowledge “does not line up with what we culturally believe about abortion.” Pro-lifers need to break this cognitive dissonance by showing the factual truth of abortion. Only truth can bring about repentance, healing, and change. Naturally, photos of aborted babies will upset women who have had an abortion, but these women may soon have another abortion unless they are moved out of denial and into healing. Pro-lifers can complement their tough message by offering these women post-abortion counseling.

Seeing is Believing has an appendix with scientific evidence collected by Dr. Jacqueline Harvey showing how effective AVP are. Harvey conducted an independent survey of public opinion, before and after, in a defined area targeted by AVP roadside banners, truth trucks, handheld signs, and postcards delivered door to door. Clearly, it is possible to stir people out of their apathy and into acting against this monumental injustice.

– Anne Barbeau Gardiner

© 2018 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved. September 2018, Volume LXXXV, Number 7.

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