On October 1-2, 2011 Pro-Life Texas launched the first-ever Face the Truth Tour in Dallas, Texas, the first of what will be many different Tours taking place all over Texas in the months and years ahead. Using large graphic signs of abortions, about a dozen activists lined the intersections at six Dallas locations and exposed the truth about what abortion is and what it does to a child.
As I was planning for this event last month a friend asked me why were we doing this, and why was it necessary to start another pro-life group when there are already so many?
There are two reasons why we are doing this. The first is to actuate a key element of social reform, as annunciated by Martin Luther King Jr., which is the need to dramatize a shameful condition in a way that raises tension so that society is forced to deal with injustice. Civil Rights activists carried this out in a non-violent, peaceful witness and we follow these principles. We don’t encourage getting arrested or violating the law but instead encourage peaceful, prayerful and penitential activism and in this sense, we are in union with our brothers and sisters in other pro-life public witness organizations.
The concept of raising the tension, though, can be viewed in different ways and how it should be done is a strategic decision that different pro-life groups have different opinions on. What cannot be said, though, is that it should not be done at all or that it is not effective.
The second reason we are doing this is that the abortion rate in Texas has remained stagnant over the last decade. It goes up and down but never makes any progress in any one direction despite recent legislative victories and huge advances in awareness and opinion polls that show more people pro-life than ever. How do we change this?
There may not be one answer, but we started Pro-Life Texas with the two-fold mission of bold public witness and grassroots trainings as a compliment to, and not a replacement of, efforts already underway in promoting the Gospel of Life. One element of our efforts will be the Face the Truth Tours, which have as their core mission the mass evangelization of a culture that is immersed in the Culture of Death and is in need of serious reform. When people are exposed to the injustice of abortion and understand its deadly nature, they are more compelled to get involved. We have to show these images. It’s the best way for people to learn it’s wrong.
We do get a lot of complaints, but the complaints that we don’t get are that the pictures are fake. The complaints we don’t get is that we are opposed to your Tour because we love abortion and think it should be legal. Almost all of the complaints we receive express concern over young children viewing the images. Those making this complaint, whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, inadvertently confirm the authenticity and effectiveness of the images and remove the debate from whether or not the images are real or effective and put it into the realm of why we need to do this in the first place, which is where the debate should lie.
After all, if there is so much concern about the remote possibility of a young child being stressed over seeing these images, then where is the cultural concern over how these images came to exist in the first place? Let’s get our priorities straight, because our long experience in this work confirms (and was confirmed repeatedly on our Dallas Tour) that children almost never have a problem with the images, but that the parents are the ones that get upset. We talked to several irate parents on the tour who demanded we not show these signs while their children stood their meekly, seemingly embarrassed that their parent was making such a spectacle of themselves. Too many times, parents use their children as an excuse to act like idiots. Some parents need to grow up.
Sometimes children understand the nature of injustice a lot better than adults do, as one prominent pro-life mother recently wrote about.
While on the Tour, the Director of a local Catholic Pregnancy Help Center stops by and thanks us for witnessing and encourages us to keep it up. She tells us that in her work at the pregnancy center, she has seen many times how women change their minds when they are exposed to the truth; the truth about the child in her womb, the child’s development and what happens if she decides to have an abortion.
Some people drive by holding their hands over their eyes (not recommended while driving!) and some give us what a friend jokingly referred to as “half a peace sign.” One well-dressed woman, driving a very nice car with a rosary hanging from her review mirror rolls down her window and says the vilest thing to me. I just smile and wave.
A young woman on the Tour with us is pregnant with her first child and is moved by the display, noting how significant it is that women see the truth since she herself is carrying a child. “It makes it all different now,” she tells me, “I can’t understand how any woman would do this to her child.”
We hold large images of a 21 week old baby killed through abortion near a busy intersection located next to an abortion mill that performs 24 week abortions. A man pulls up and questions why we are in this “nice, residential area” and we point out that children are being killed, their limbs ripped apart and their skulls crushed not 300 feet from where we are standing. The man is surprised to hear this, he had no idea.
A reporter asks me what I think about a federal court’s recent decision to halt implementation of Texas’ sonogram bill and I tell her that the reason for creating the sonogram bill is the same reason we are on the streets today: women deserve to know all the information about what an abortion is and what it does to their child.
There are misunderstandings. After an irate bystander kicks one of our signs and punches one of our Tour participants the police come out and, instead of investigating an assault, they demand to know why we are here. As I attempt to explain to the rookie officers about first amendment rights, they arrogantly insist I could be arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, thrown in jail and my signs seized as evidence, merely for standing on a public sidewalk.
We ask to speak to the supervisor who arrives shortly after, realizes his men have overreacted, sends the police paddy wagon away and crumples up a citation already written. He does not apologize, mind you, but rebukes us for engaging in this activity in the first place and laments that all of this happened. As of this writing, there has still not been an investigation made into the assault.
Another reason for doing this kind of activity involves a spiritual mindset, one that invokes the most basic of Christian principles: the need to sacrifice yourself completely so that justice will be victorious. These bold public witnesses allow for a person, in a way not found elsewhere, to carry his cross, to endure persecution and to allowing their suffering to purify our culture. I would ask any person involved in pro-life work today, are you really giving of yourselves completely to this work, or are you in it for the glory? Blessed Pope John Paul II once called it the “most important work on earth.” Is your life a testimony to that statement? Are you unafraid of those who are in positions of power and authority, from those who could send you to jail, those who could take your job from you and those who would castigate you and call you names? After our closing prayer on the Tour on Sunday afternoon, I told everyone that we would be doing it again soon and that they should bring a friend, to which someone responded, “if you got any left!” He understood.
At one point on the tour a man drives by in his car and screams at us, “Get a life!” Indeed, that’s the whole point. May we get many lives in the days ahead.
Andrew Smith is the State Director of Pro-Life Texas, a state-wide organization providing grass-roots training for bold, public witness on the streets and in the Legislature. A former police officer who served in the United States Marine Corps, he has more than a decade of experience in pro-life activism.