By BRIAN CLOWES
(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 19 of The Facts of Life, “United States Abortion Statistics,” e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Edward Tufte, a professor emeritus at Yale, is an information guru. He travels the world teaching people the art of “data visualization,” or how to most effectively present the power and the beauty of evidence. His work highlights the fact that the battle over social issues is largely one of images that activists from all sides attempt to establish in people’s minds.
No battle is more rich in imagery than the struggle over abortion. We have seen everything from coat-hangers to roses, ultrasound photos of preborn babies, faked photos of women killed by illegal abortions, panel trucks with giant bloody aborted baby pictures on them, and NARAL’s “Silent No More” debacle, where weeping women described in great detail the suffering of their (mostly imaginary) women relatives at the filthy hands of drunk illegal abortionists.
We pro-lifers can increase the impact of our message if we cultivate our “visual literacy.” The average pro-lifer doesn’t have access to the sophisticated technical equipment needed to make his arguments visually gorgeous, but he does have the power of imagination.
And this is one of the critical tools that will win the abortion battle in the end — our imaginations. As none other than Joseph Stalin said, “Ideas are more powerful than guns.”
Stalin also said: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” This is the problem pro-lifers face when talking about abortion statistics. If we can’t get people to care about “X” millions of dead preborn babies, we will never get them interested in specific unborn babies that they will never see.
Pro-abortionists tend to strongly resist using hard facts and statistics because they do not support the “pro-choice” position. Instead, they ignore facts and statistics and lean on emotional appeals and feelings to make their points.
When we use documented statistics backed up by visual imagery during written or oral attempts to persuade, we elevate the debate above emotions and appeal directly to logic and reason. No pro-abortionist can refute documented statistics — especially when they originate with pro-abortion sources, which eliminates the inevitable accusations of “anti-choice bias.”
Using Word Pictures in Discussions. The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words has never been more important, because people these days are persuaded by imagery, not words. Therefore, we can increase our impact by painting vivid “word pictures” to illustrate our points during discussions or debates. A pro-lifer makes a tremendous impact on listeners by using his imagination to relate the abortion issue to everyday images that people are familiar with. In other words, we can frame the issue in terms that people understand and will therefore remember.
As of January 1, 2014, there have been 55.7 million legal surgical and medical abortions in the United States since the first states legalized prenatal child killing in 1967.
The worst year was 1990 with 1,608,600 abortions; since then, the number of abortions has declined almost every year to the current level of just over a million annually, partly due to never-ending pro-life efforts and partly due to the “ripple effect” of having fewer young women who are aborting. This phenomenon is itself a reflection of the sad fact that there are fewer young women because many of their would-have-been mothers were themselves aborted 15 to 20 years previously.
The Vietnam Memorial. You might get people thinking by asking if they have visited the National Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial is a shiny black wall that stretches 492 feet and lists the names of the 58,209 Americans killed in that war. If such a wall listed the names of the 55.7 million babies legally killed by surgical and medical abortions in the United States since 1966, it would be 90 miles long! And a wall that commemorated the 2.3 billion preborn babies wiped out by surgical and medical abortions worldwide since 1960 would stretch 3,723 miles — from coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York City, with a thousand miles to spare.
Cemeteries for Preborn Babies. Pro-life activists frequently set up temporary displays of thousands of crosses representing the number of preborn babies killed by abortions in the United States every day. These crosses make a riveting display of the brutal reality of abortion (at least until they are torn down by pro-abortion vandals).
If standard burial plots were allocated to each preborn child killed by surgical abortion in the United States, the resulting cemetery would cover 300 square miles. If there were a cemetery for all of the 2.3 billion preborn babies killed by surgical abortions in the world since 1959, it would cover more than 12,500 square miles — larger than the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Vermont. But, because of “freedom of choice,” these billions of children will never see the light of day.
Holding Hands. If these 55.7 million babies had been born and had grown up, then got together to hold hands, the resulting line would stretch around the world at the Equator more than two and a half times — more than 64,000 miles!
A Much Larger “Quilt Project.” For several years, American homophile activists promoted the “Quilt Project,” where 3 foot by 6 foot rectangles of cloth decorated with the stories of victims’ lives were laid side by side. The primary purposes of this project were to generate sympathy and show the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic. The largest such display to date has covered an area equivalent to a football field. If 55.7 million of these quilts were laid down adjacent to each other, one for each aborted preborn baby, it would cover an area of 36 square miles!
This quilt would easily blanket the central districts of any large city. You can mention landmarks bounding this area in the appropriate city in order to strengthen your point. For example, let us suppose that a circular quilt commemorating all of the preborn babies in the United States who have died from abortion were laid over Washington, D.C., centering on the White House. This quilt would cover Crystal City and Reagan National Airport in the South, the Smithsonian Zoo in the North, all of Georgetown in the West, and the National Arboretum to the East.
The “Marching Aborted.” During the height of the population scare in the late 1960s, bigoted anti-population alarmists sometimes referred to their fear of “the marching Chinese.” They meant that the population of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was increasing so fast (21 million per year at that time) that the Chinese could march two abreast past a single point and never have the same person pass twice.
We can adapt this concept to describe the magnitude of the “marching aborted.” There are about 46 million surgical and medical abortions committed all over the world annually. If these children marched past one point continuously for 24 hours a day, they would be four abreast.
Crashing School Buses. Population control groups allege that 300,000 women die of illegal abortions all over the world each year. They say that this is equivalent to the death toll of a fully loaded jumbo jet crashing every 12 hours, year-round, with no survivors. We can adapt this visual imagery for our own purposes. For example, any community would mourn for weeks if a school bus full of 50 of its children crashed, killing all inside. If we assume that the abortion mills in this country are operating 50 hours per week, 50 babies are killed every eight minutes! A pro-life debater could also tailor this image to a local abortuary — for example, one which killed 2,500 babies every year would be equivalent to a 50-child school bus crashing every week.
The Dead States. In the United States, abortionists have killed a number of children equal to the combined populations of 18 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. A map of the United States with all of these states blacked out is a real attention grabber. This gives an audience some idea of the colossal magnitude of the abortion disaster.
But if someone thinks that this is not particularly impressive since these states are the most sparsely populated in the United States, consider this: Surgical abortion has killed enough preborn children to populate six of the largest American cities and their surrounding population centers: Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., whose combined populations are about 56 million.
Visual imagery can also be very effective when we discuss other abortion statistics, such as abortions for the “hard cases,” abortions among minorities, and late-term abortions. This will be the topic of the next column.