A gasp is the standard reaction to the Justice For All exhibit, displayed in Tate Plaza on Monday and Tuesday.
The organization, which uses graphic images portraying abortion-related violence, seeks to “train thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time.” JFA defends this controversial method in its brochure and on its website, arguing, “Injustice is hardly ever visually appealing” and quoting Gandhi, “[We] must make injustice visible.”
The method is certainly provocative. A group of protesters were stationed around the exhibit on Monday; some held sheets in an attempt to block view of the images, but most held signs that said, for example, “I really like being told what to do with my body.”
I spoke with both JFA representatives and protestors, and both indicated that relations between the two groups were cordial. Said one protestor, “They are technically allowing us to be here, so we’re getting along, we just don’t like what they are doing.” Another protestor reported that JFA representatives even asked a pugnacious and disrespectful individual to stop harassing the pro-choice students.
JFA emphasizes “love and truth … in the context of dialogue.” When I asked a representative if the images were conducive to such a mission, she indicated that they were. Nodding to the protestors, she said that JFA respects the opinions of pro-choice individuals, but feels that abortion is an injustice that needs to be addressed, and these images underscore abortion’s harsh reality — a reality often downplayed by groups like Planned Parenthood. “They are also a conversation starter,” she added.
JFA takes its cue from the mother of Emmett Till, a young African-American boy who was brutally beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. His mother insisted on a public funeral with an open casket, a decision that had powerful implications for the Civil Rights Movement. The disturbing image of his body served as a spark for activism.
Emotional response is often integral to moral activism. Viewing an image of an African-American being lynched or a gas chamber filled with Jewish dead ought to incite a host of emotions: anger, sorrow, disgust. Images of injustice should make us angry. They should call every just bone in our body to action. It is precisely the emotions aroused by these shocking images that gives them power for reform. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
This is the advantage of JFA’s image philosophy. The exhibit displays pictures of an unjust practice that occurs roughly one million times per year in the United States. It might not be pretty, but that is not reason alone to disregard it. Injustice is rarely visually appealing.
One other advantage of these graphic images is the response elicited from supporters of abortion’s legality. All consequences of a legalized practice must be understood, and these images speak for the voiceless victims of abortion.
However, there are two main disadvantages to the shock value endorsed by JFA. One is that abortion is traumatic for many women who choose it. Compassion and sympathy must define the pro-life movement, and the nature of the JFA display is questionable despite its focus on open-minded discussion. Another disadvantage is the arousal of antagonistic emotions that serve to close the minds of the opposition. This often prevents needed reasonable discourse.
The dilemma for the pro-life side is how to love those who disagree while condemning injustice. The massive display of graphic images tilts the balance too far toward the latter. Human lives are at stake, but urgency does not necessitate acerbity. Show the images after the dialogue.
—Ryan Slauer is a pre-med senior studying economics and Latin
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