Opening the Casket On Abortion

Dear Friend of CBR,

On August 20, 2006, we received a message from a pregnant nineteen-year-old woman who lives in London, Ontario, in Canada. She was pro-abortion when she came to our site and she expressed obvious guilt after looking at our aborted baby photos:

This has extremely altered my idea of abortion. I am currently pregnant and was considering the idea of abortion. Now… NO WAY!! There is a living being inside of me and my mother gave me a chance, so why can’t I [do the same for my baby]?

She is shown the truth. Her position is changed. A baby’s life is saved.

On August 13, 2006, however, we had received a similar but sadder note from a twenty-five-year-old woman who lives in Phoenix, AZ. She was angry that we had just shown her what abortion looks like. She said, “Abortions should be legal … who are you to tell me what to do with my body, just because of your moral beliefs?” Actually, we hadn’t “told her what to do with her body” at all. We had merely shown her an aborted baby photo. It was her own conscience “telling her what to do with her body.” Our aborted baby photos had proved that it isn’t only her body which is involved in a decision to kill her child. There is also the body of her baby. She still had enough of a conscience to feel shame (and hence great anger that we had shamed her) but not enough to change her position. She went beyond rejection of the truth;she insisted that we keep that truth to ourselves. We often hear this demand from pro-aborts who can’t defend their position unless they can cover up the evidence that they are wrong.

My wife Lois is a frequent participant in “E-counseling” sessions during which she uses E-mail in an attempt to talk pregnant women out of aborting. These abortion-vulnerable mothers show up online with questions posted on pro-abortion “message boards.” She recently received the following note:

Hi. I’m new to this group and wanted to find some support. I am a young mother of five-month-old twins and I just found out I am pregnant again.

* * *

We do have the resources to afford and care for the third but it would throw things off for my family in the stress and marriage departments. I also want my twins to have the attention they deserve as they grow up. Can anyone help? I feel as though if I have the abortion I will be punished and something will happen to one of my two beautiful babies.

Lois replied with a thoughtful mixture of empathy, fact and argument but she also included an aborted baby photo. Here is the reply she received: “This [bulletin] board is not meant for a disgusting, born-again, Christian pro-lifer like you. “You are an AWFUL awful person and have no business soliciting me into your Bush-loving lifestyle.”

Whoa! She is angry with her baby, my wife, our President and her Creator. If she seems a bit thin-skinned, it may be because she knows that what she is about to do is very wrong and further evidence of that fact will make it painfully more difficult to rationalize the act. So she demands that the evidence (a photo) be suppressed.

There is nothing new in a guilty conscience demanding a cover-up of photos.

Many pro-lifers have heard about Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago who, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, was tortured to death, allegedly for whistling at a white woman (or bidding her farewell with a flippant “bye baby” – accounts vary). But this tragic civil rights story offers more lessons for effective pro-life activism than is generally understood.

BlackPressUSA.com, August 27, 2001, reported in a story entitled “1955 – Emmett Till Killed in Mississippi” that Emmett’s mother “had insisted that the casket be opened when it arrived in Chicago, although it had been sealed when it left Mississippi.” There was a reason that authorities in Mississippi did not want the world to see the body of Emmett Till.

The Washington Post, August 28, 2005, published a story on the legacy of Emmett Till entitled “Dead End,” with a subhead which read “On the Trail of a Civil Rights Icon, Starting Where He Did”:

…Ahmed A. Rayner Sr., … prepared Emmett’s body for services after it was pulled from the Tallahatchie River – with a cotton-gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. Tortured and bruised, with most of his teeth missing, his remains were returned in a sealed box on a train to Chicago.

Ahmed Rayner is dead and the family-owned funeral home is run by his granddaughter [Pamela Rayner].

* * *

‘I remember him saying that he had to do something because the way that he [Emmett] was brought up here, he looked so bad that it would probably scare most of the people,’ says Rayner. There was the eye that her grandfather had to put back into Till’s head and the fixing of his swollen tongue that hung out of his mouth – the stitching and patchwork to make the boy presentable in a glass-covered casket.

There was also a reason that Emmett’s mother demanded the unsealing of the crate in which the condition of her son’s body had been hidden:

‘After the body arrived I knew I had to look and see and make sure it was Emmett. That was when I decided that I wanted the whole world to see what I had seen. There was no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.’ (BlackPressUSA.com, February 21, 2001, ‘A Disturbing Picture’)

Sounds a lot like abortion: no way it can be described; vital that we show the world how horrifying it looks.

Not only did Ms. Mobley (Emmett’s mother) want funeral-goers to see what had been done to her son, she urged that the entire black community be shown the hideous face of racism (BlackPressUSA.com, February 21, 2001, supra.):

John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, recalls in his autobiography, ‘Succeeding Against The Odds,’ that Mobley had asked photographers to shoot pictures of Till’s body.’

‘There were people on the staff who were squeamish about the photographs,’ Johnson recalled. ‘I had reservations too but I decided finally that if it happened it was our responsibility to print it and let the world experience man’s inhumanity to man.’

Colbert I. King, today a columnist for The Washington Post, still remembers the photo he saw in Jet as a youngster. He wrote the following earlier this year:

‘We got the chance to see what he looked like with his skull crushed in, a bullet in his head, an eye gouged out and … the barbed wire they had wrapped around his frame ….’

Mobley knew what she was doing. So did Johnson.

‘The issue [of Jet], which went on sale on September 15, 1955,’ recalled Johnson, ‘sold out immediately and did as much as any other event to traumatize Black America and prepare the way for the Freedom Movement of the sixties.’

Indeed it did. The Washington Post, August 9, 2005, in a story about Mr. Johnson called “The Publishing World’s Black Light,” agreed with this assessment of the influence of the shocking pictures:

When Johnson published the grisly photographs of Emmett Till … people said later their lives were changed. They better understood all the stories passed down about lynchings and midnight murders and they were energized to fight a modern fight against hatred.

No one could have imagined at the time how these “energizing” photos would spark a literal revolution. Court TV’s Crime Library (crimelibrary.com) describes the impact of the pictures in a story by Mark Gado entitled “Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till”:

The woman kept her seat. Despite the driver who, after several minutes, became noticeably irritated that a black person would have the audacity to do what this woman did. She refused to give up a seat to a white man. She sat in the middle of the bus, staring out of a grimy window, deaf to the shouting around her.

* * *

‘Are you going to get up or do I have to call the police?’ the driver shouted.

The woman shifted her position slightly but did not get up. ‘Call them,’ she simply said.

* * *

Glancing out the window, she saw a young boy ride by on his bike….

* * *

She was thinking of another boy who was in the news recently, a teenager from Chicago, with the unlikely name of Emmett ‘Bobo’ Till.

* * *

The woman saw a newspaper photo of the boy’s corpse. The image deeply disturbed her and because of it, she hadn’t been able to sleep lately. No, she wouldn’t give up her seat.

* * *

Things are not right here, she said to herself. Maybe if people just didn’t go along with it anymore. Maybe if everyone just stuck together. Something had to happen. She saw a red-faced cop moving toward her but little did she care.

The only thing Rosa Parks thought about was the boy, Emmett Till.

And that’s not all these sickening photos have accomplished. Outrage in the black community over Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, AL, provoked the Montgomery bus boycott which gave Martin Luther King his first opportunity to test and refine theories of social change through non-violent resistance (Jessica McElrath, “Martin Luther King’s Philosophy on Nonviolent Resistance,”afamhistory.about.com). Keith Beauchamp, the film maker who directed the documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Till,” says that it was Emmett Till’s murder which inspired Dr. King to assume the leadership of that boycott – the campaign which effectively launched the civil rights movement (UC Santa Cruz Currents Online, January 30, 2006, currents.ucsc.edu).

Would Rosa Parks have been more willing or less willing to risk her life for a bus seat had she read of Emmett Till’s murder without seeing photos? Wasn’t it the photos which made her realize that this was no ordinary bus seat?

Would Martin Luther King have been more willing or less willing to risk his life for a boycott had he read of Emmett Till’s murder without seeing photos? Was it not the photos which made him realize that this was no ordinary boycott?

The whole civil rights movement was about pictures. Social reform is always about pictures; and the racists knew it. The WGBH television documentary “The Murder of Emmett Till” (PBS Home Video, from the American Experience series) features an interview with a white racist who is angry, not that this boy had been murdered but that his mother had outmaneuvered the Klan by directing that lid be pried off the casket, insisting that the body be photographed and demanding that the pictures be published. Without those pictures, there would have been no political pressure with which to force even a bogus trial of two of his murderers (who after being predictably acquitted, confessed their guilt to a reporter in exchange for the $4,000 they were paid for an interview). “I can’t understand how a civilized woman can put the dead body of her child on public display,” the racist indignantly lamented. Could there be a more perverse sense of civility? Killing him wasn’t the outrage; showing him was!

We hear this all the time from critics of our public display of aborted baby photos: “It’s not fair!” Implicit in this criticism is the depraved notion that killing these children is fair but showing them isn’t.

And they have a point of sorts: showing victims of injustice isn’t “fair” to a defender of an unjust status quo. Photos change everything. And one showing is seldom enough. That is why, even fifty years later, The Chicago Defender is still reminding black people with reprinted “funeral photos” of Emmett Till (The Washington Post, August 28, 2005, supra.).

There aren’t many news organizations which will publish or broadcast “Emmett Till-type” photos of aborted babies. That is why it is critical that we display them in the public square.

On May 10, 2004, The U.S. Department of Justice opened a federal investigation into the murder of Emmett Till. Mr. Beauchamp, the filmmaker, believes that at least fourteen men may have been complicit in the teenager’s killing and that five are still alive. Emmett Till’s body has now been exhumed and an autopsy has been performed. Indictments capable of producing convictions may yet be handed up.

Would this new investigation have been more likely or less likely to have been undertaken without the publication of photos? In fact, without the photos, how many of us would have ever heard of Emmett Till?

On August 31, 2006, we received the following E-mail message from a professor at The University of Montana:

For the past two evenings your plane circled the University of Montana’s campus for over two hours; intentionally disrupting the outdoor performance of Shakespeare in the Park. The noise of the plane made it very difficult to hear the actor’s lines and ruined much of the performance for many in the audience.

* * *

Your tactics have only further convinced hundreds of people of the appalling nature of your group.

And of the “appalling nature of abortion.” We don’t care what people think of us. We care what they think of abortion.

We get countless letters and phone calls just like this; from people protesting the fact that our photos have “ruined” morning commutes and evening commutes and business lunches and days at the beach and baseball games and football games and picnics and the list of ruined events never ends. If we stopped ruining every activity at which we are told our photos are inappropriate, there would be no activity left to ruin. But these same photos also “ruin” plans to kill babies.

We bother people. That is the essence of prophetic ministry. That is the essence of social activism. No one likes it. Even we don’t like it. But we thank God that donors like you make it possible for us to become increasing bothersome. Until America is bothered by abortion, there will be no end to the killing.

Lord bless,

Gregg Cunningham

Executive Director

P.S. The words “Kyrie eleison” comprise the totality of an ancient prayer, spoken in Greek, which in English means “God have mercy.” It is powerful. Especially in these times, we urge you to pray it without ceasing.

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