I’ve known for a long time that I should lose some weight. So, last week, I visited my doctor, and he showed me a gross, disgusting, dripping ball of yellow wax. “This,” he said to me, “is what ten pounds of fat looks like. This is what you’re carrying around in your body.” Was it upsetting? Unnerving? Sobering? You bet it was. It was also true, and it was effective, as it strengthened my resolve to get my weight under control.
Being confronted by the truth can often be unpleasant. That’s why those who fight so hard to eradicate world hunger will show us what hunger does, with a picture of a starving child, covered with flies and sores. Does it disturb us to face that truth, an image we’d rather not see or think about? It should, even as it spurs us to action.
It’s the same with smoking. I’m sure you’ve seen those television commercials that graphically portray the effects of smoking. It’s unpleasant to look at open heart surgery, or a pair of diseased lungs, or to see a person who has lost fingers, toes, or the esophagus, all due to smoking. The ads are nauseating, even hideous, to see. But the New York State Department of Health, among many others, sponsors these kinds of ads because they know that they can help to save lives.
Another ad has been generating some fierce reactions. Here in New York, a billboard was recently displayed, that simply stated “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” This message was accompanied by a photograph of a young, African-American girl.
Is that message unpleasant? Is it upsetting? Does it get our attention?
Because the message is somberly true. The City of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released its vital statistics from a year ago which showed that 59.8% of African-American pregnancies in New York City ended in abortion. That’s even higher than the chilling city-wide average of 41% of pregnancies ending in abortion. (I joined other community leaders from a diversity of religious and ethnic backgrounds at a press conference sponsored by the Chiaroscuro Foundation about this a few weeks ago.)
So why has the billboard suddenly been taken down? What was it that moved many of our elected officials to condemn this ad and call for the gag order. Are they claiming that free speech is a right enjoyed only by those who favor abortion or their pet causes? Do they believe that unpleasant and disturbing truths should not be spoken? Or are they afraid that when people are finally confronted with the reality of the horror of abortion, and with the toll that it is taking in our city, particularly in our African-American community, that they will be moved to defend innocent, unborn, human life?
Perhaps I’m more saddened by this intolerance right now because on Monday I will be celebrating the funeral mass for Doctor Bernard Nathanson, that giant of the pro-life movement, who died earlier this week. If you don’t know Dr. Nathanson’s story, you should. At one time, he fought hard to promote and expand abortion on demand in this state and in our country. He was one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League. He ran what he called the “largest abortion clinic in the Western world,” and bragged about personally performing thousands of abortions. But, when Dr. Nathanson was confronted with the undeniable truth, when he could see the unborn baby in the womb through the use of ultrasound technology, he abandoned his support for abortion and became a crusader for the protection of the life of the baby in the womb.
His courage and bravery should be an inspiration to us, especially when we have to face unpleasant and sobering truths.