Interview with Stephanie Gray
PLM: Hello everyone. This is Brett Attebery from Pro-Life Magazine. Today I am very honored to have with me Stephanie Gray.
Stephanie is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. She began speaking about pro-life issues in 1999 at the age of 18 and co-founded her national organization at the age of 20.
Stephanie has debated many abortion advocates and she has done countless media interviews with major networks in both Canada and the United States. She is faculty at the Blackstone Legal Fellowship and is author of “A Physicians Guide to Discussing Abortion.”
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and a Certification with Distinction in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.
Stephanie Gray: Thank you very much for having me on!
PLM: I’m very intrigued when I go to the website for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. The website url is “unmaskingchoice. ca”. Can you give some background about what you mean by “unmasking choice?’
Stephanie Gray: Sure. Abortion supporters have used language to their advantage. They have taken words like “choice”, “freedom”, “womens rights”, “reproductive justice”, all of these terms which have very positive sounding connotations, and as a result they have led society to believe that abortion is a positive thing.
So what we wanted to do was use the language the other side has used to their advantage, but use it to our advantage to expose, or to unmask, what the choice of abortion really means for the baby, to expose what reproductive choice really means when it comes to the procedure of abortion itself.
So we thought, “Well let’s unmask choice”, hence unmaskingchoice.ca.
PLM: I see. I notice when you talk about what abortion really is you can see on your website that you put a very strong emphasis on showing the reality of the results of abortion procedures by using very graphic photographs of aborted children. Can you talk about your motivation for using those types of images?
Stephanie Gray: I would say there are two main motivations for using abortion victim photography. The first reason is that it works in changing minds and therefore saving lives. I’ve held in my arms a little baby boy who was born but who had been scheduled to be aborted, and his mother saw my colleague standing in the rain with large images of abortion victim photography, and that’s what compelled her to cancel her appointment. Subsequently, she invited two of my colleagues to the hospital when she was in labor. So we know that it works. We have countless examples of that claim that can be seen on our website at unmaskingchoice.ca.
The second reason is the study we’ve done of successful social reform movements in history has clearly shown us the power of images when communicating a message to a culture. For example, we studied the civil rights movement, or the anti child labor movement, or even as far back as the abolitionist movement in Great Britain. With all of these movements what we saw was that those who aimed to end the injustice did so by first exposing the injustice.
Dr. King once said “America will not reject racism until America sees racism.” That’s why every time the civil rights activists would do a protest leaders like King would arrange for media to be there to visually document the brutalization of the civil rights activists so that the public would be appalled at the plight of African Americans and the injustice of racism and segregation.
Lewis Hine was a photographer of the early 20th century in the United States and he would travel across the country and take pictures of children working in horrible conditions who were child laborers. It was his images which really helped change public opinion which led to an ultimate change in public policy.
Then you have the abolitionist movement in a time even before photography when the likes of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson nonetheless recognized the need to have a visual imprint in people’s minds of the injustice. So Thomas Clarkson, one of the abolitionists, would give presentations all across England and every time he spoke he would do a demonstration visually for his audiences about how the slaves were chained together. He purchased chains and shackles and would do the demonstration so that people could visually see how people were being mistreated.
There was also a diagram of the inside of a slave ship that was drawn in the year 1788 and that diagram was a very shocking image that was widely circulated to horrify people about the state of the slave trade.
So we are simply following in the footsteps of these successful social reformers and doing the same with abortion education what these other movements did with segregation education, and child labor education, and slave trade education.
I think underlying all of this though is a basic principle that victims’ stories have a right to be told. And ultimately the victims of abortion cannot tell their stories for themselves the way, for example, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide could tell her story to society. So these pictures are a way of doing for the aborted child what that child cannot do for his or herself, that is, let their stories be told that “this is what happened to me.”
PLM: I remember the first time I saw some of these images, and they are shocking. You have a real visceral reaction to it. I’m sure you’ve experienced seeing many people and the types of reactions that they have. Can you talk about your experience and some of the typical reactions you’ve seen from both sides, from people who are pro-abortion as well as people who are pro-life?
Stephanie Gray: People who are in favor of abortion can have a range of reactions. Some are just horrified that the pictures are on display. Others are in denial claiming they’re not true at which point we bring forward all our evidence to very much prove the images are true. So there’s that sense of resistance of the message saying that it’s too shocking.
What we’ll always say is “What’s worse, the picture of abortion or the act of abortion?” If the image is shocking it’s because the act of abortion is shocking, and shouldn’t we be more horrified that what we’re seeing is true, and is happening, than simply being horrified that a picture is on display?
Then amongst pro-lifers I’ve seen people just moved to tears when they first encounter the images, and I’ll always say that is a beautiful sign of a functioning conscience. We should be moved to tears. We should feel sorrowful at the sight of another human being’s plight and their victimization. So you will see people very much moved with pity and sorrow for these children. And that provides a great opportunity to motivate them to do more for these children, more than perhaps they’ve ever done before. We often find that not only can the images stir to change the heart of someone who is in favor of abortion, but they can serve to activate the heart of someone who is against abortion.
PLM: I’ve seen some comments, I’ll assume it’s a minority of people, but I’ve seen some pro-lifers who don’t like the display of these very graphic images in a public setting. I’m sure you’ve talked with some of them and i’m wondering what their reasons are for opposing the public display of these kinds of very graphic images.
Stephanie Gray: I have encountered pro-lifers who take issue with what we do from a strategic perspective, and one of the objections that I’ll often hear is that a woman who has had an abortion may see the images and is going to be horrified by it.
We certainly acknowledge that when the pictures are in public that you are going to have women pass by who have already had abortions. What’s really important however is that we realize that the post-abortive are also pre-abortive.
What do I mean by that? Here in Canada, and I think the numbers are similar in the States, approximately 40% of the 100,000 abortions occurring annually here are on women who have already had an abortion. So we have to bear in mind that yes, a woman who walks past these images having already made that choice may feel bad.
However, that bad feeling she experiences can move her out of denial into acknowledgment that she needs to get healing. Whereas if she didn’t see the images and she’s able to maintain her denial then she’s going to repeat her behavior so that in the future she doesn’t have merely one child to grieve, she’s got two or three or more because she was never convicted early enough about the sin of abortion.
It’s also important for us to remember that an unhealed post-abortive woman tries to get other women to do what she did. Therefore the images serve an important role to move in her heart so that she doesn’t continually encourage others to make her same mistake.
That’s often the first concern and the idea behind it is that the images will act as a trigger to the trauma of abortion. What we point out is that a lot of things serve as a trigger to the trauma of abortion. Seeing another pregnant woman can trigger another woman’s memory of her abortion. Hearing a vacuum cleaner can trigger a woman’s trauma of her first trimester suction abortion. Seeing a five year old, if you had an abortion five years ago, can trigger the trauma of your abortion.
And we do not eliminate five year olds, and pregnant women, and vacuum cleaners from our society just because they are reminders that could make a woman feel bad. Correspondingly, we shouldn’t remove the reminder, the trigger of abortion when it comes to abortion victim photography just because someone will feel bad.
So that’s often the first objection. The second objection that I’ve heard is people will say it’s disrespectful to the dead, to the very children who are pictured in the images. One person has gone so far as to say that it’s not giving the dead the proper burial that they’re due.
What I point out is that we bury bodies, not images. So what we have on display are not the corpses of these children. If I had the corpses of these photographed children I obviously would bury these children. What I have are images. Therefore, it’s not disrespectful to memorialize the memory of the child by letting their story of their victimization be told.
In the same way it’s not disrespectful with Holocaust imagery. We see pictures of individual Jews and others who were brutally killed. I think what we need to remember is that victim’s stories have a right to be told. The victims not only have a right for their stories to be told for themselves, but also it’s important that their life and death be able to spare other people the suffering that they themselves have endured.
How often will survivors of drinking and driving accidents want to go to high schools and tell students about what happened to them? Show the students their very scarred and burned bodies from the accident they were in. The idea is that through the telling of my story if I can spare other people the plight I’ve experienced, isn’t that a good thing? And that’s kind of the mentality behind the images is through telling the stories of these children other children will be spared what happened to them.
PLM: You said earlier in our interview that these images work. They’re effective. I know you’ve seen pro-abortion people who have engaged these images and have changed their minds about abortion. What kinds of things do they tend to say about the images, and do they get specific about what was it that changed their minds when they saw these images?
Stephanie Gray: Sometimes they do. I know one post-abortive woman who said it was seeing the images that moved her to getting help. In another case, we encountered a woman 15 months after she gave birth to a baby that when she was 12 weeks pregnant with that child had encountered our images and thought “I had no idea abortion looks like that.” She was still trying to decide what she was going to do with her pregnancy and thought “I am not going to have my child look like that.” So for her that’s what went through her mind and she made the change, carried to term.
So it really depends. We will also dialogue with people when holding the pictures or displaying the pictures, and at the end of the conversation they’ll say “You know, I never thought of it that way. That really made me think,” or “Now that I’ve seen these pictures there’s no way I can support abortion.” But it’s so different for each person how they articulate or express that change.
PLM: Can you tell us a little bit about CCBR? What are some of the things you’re focusing on now and have planned for the near future?
Stephanie Gray: Our core approach is education. In terms of how we educate the culture there are two main ways. We do it through presentation where we can present for example at a church or a youth group or at a high school assembly with a captive audience that’s already gathered for some other purpose where you could say the “gatekeepers,” those who control access to those individuals be it principals, or pastors, or so forth, will open the gates. They let us in and we educate them in the context of a talk.
The other approach we take is one of activism where if we can’t reach everyone in an audience setting in terms of a presentation, how can we take our message directly to them? So we go out several times a year with our genocide awareness project which is a canvas exhibit specifically designed for college students.
Then we go out five days a week with what we call “choice chain” which is a project based on the concept of “life chain” which involves going directly to the culture. What makes it different is that we’ve taken the word “choice,” we’ve placed a picture at the end result of that choice, namely an abortion victim, and then we hold the signs at busy intersections or outside of high schools over the lunch hour, at busy downtown districts, and then we engage passers-by in a discussion about abortion, showing them the pictures and asking them what they think.
Five days a week we also have mobile billboards that we drive around in western Canada and in eastern Canada with abortion victim photography and a thought-provoking slogan with our website and a phone number.
Then we also distribute postcards to people’s homes that show the abortion victim, and then the backside is generally making the prolife case with some expression of the scientific facts of who the baby is, what abortion does to the baby. Last year alone we distributed about 300,000 of those across our country.
PLM: Wow! I’m sitting here as you talked about the postcard and I’m imagining getting one of those. Of course, I’m fine with it but I bet you get a lot of phone calls that aren’t the friendliest of phone calls.
Stephanie Gray: That is true! Not so friendly phone calls, not so friendly emails, not so friendly Facebook messages. And yet when people contact us if they request to be contacted back we have staffers that will call them back. One of my colleagues called a man who complained. They spoke for about 20 minutes and at the end of the conversation he said, “You know what, thanks for calling me because you’ve changed my mind.”
PLM: That’s what I was thinking that the images are so gripping that even if someone had an angry reaction to it, if they are willing to call you, or email you, and engage with you it gives you the opportunity to get in touch with them and tell them so many things about abortion that they probably aren’t even aware of.
Stephanie Gray: Right.
PLM: How can people learn more about what your organization does, and how can they support you guys in your mission?
Stephanie Gray: If people go to unmaskingchoice.ca (the .ca is for Canada) there are a wealth of resources on our website. I think a good starting point as pro-lifers is that we often don’t feel equipped to be able to answer the many questions that can come our way from those who support abortion, so we have developed a free online resource called our Pro-Life Classroom.
You can see it on our homepage on the upper right hand side. If you click on that button there are about 15 lessons that we take you through.
There’s a short written answer and an accompanying 4 to 6 minute training video covering everything from “what about rape?” to “what if the woman’s life is in danger?” to “when does life begin?” to how do you address the more philosophical arguments like personhood, or the claims of Peter Singer.
So go to unmaskingchoice.ca, go to that ProLife Classroom and get yourself equipped. Then, on the top bar of our website on the horizontal menu we have a section called “Get Active.” There is a list of things that we encourage prolifers to do in their everyday lives. For example, ordering one of our resources on the website and then when you are out at the mall you leave one of the pamphlets. Maybe you take public transit and when you get off the bus you leave one of the cards on the bus because you never know will come up behind you a minute or an hour later and encounter that pro-life information and change their minds.
To get “choice chain” going in your community we have resources on our site for how to get a group going. We can certainly connect people to activists even within their city, within their state. We have a number of American prolifers that we partner with.
And then, of course, if someone doesn’t think they can be on the front line, we can’t do this work without the financial support of people who maybe can’t be on the front lines with us but can fuel our efforts. So on the upper right hand side of our page there is a big donate button and we’d certainly be grateful for people’s contributions.
PLM: That’s wonderful Stephanie. Again I want to thank you for your time today. It’s been wonderful and I’ve learned a lot from you, and I’ve learned a lot from your website. You have so many resources on your site that pro-lifers can access. I know you’ve dedicated most of your life to this mission, so I want to thank you personally, and thank your organization for everything that you do for the cause of life.
Stephanie Gray: Thank you and you’re most welcome. All for God’s glory.
PLM: That’s right. So take care and we’ll talk with you soon.
Stephanie Gray: Alright. God Bless you.
About Stephanie Gray
Stephanie is a seasoned and international presenter who began speaking in 1999 at the age of 18 and who co-founded her national organization (which has grown to almost 20 staff) at the age of 20. She has given pro-life presentations across North America as well as in the United Kingdom, Latvia, and Costa Rica.
She has spoken at many post-secondary institutions such as the University of Toronto, York University, University of Calgary, Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, and the University of Sussex in England.
Stephanie has debated abortion advocates such as physicians who do abortions, which includes debating late-term abortionist Dr. Fraser Fellows in front of medical students at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
She has also debated Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, Dr. Jan Narveson, Philosophy professor and recipient of the Order of Canada, and Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Stephanie’s audiences are vast, including high schools, churches of various denominations, seminaries, and pro-life organizations.
One presentation attendee described Stephanie’s talk as, “interesting, convincing, moving, [and] excellent…” Another said, “I came in choice, I’m leaving life.”
Stephanie has had countless media interviews, which include being a guest on CTV News, CBC News, Global News, SUN News, Catholic Answers Radio, 100 Huntley Street’s Listen Up, and the Miracle Channel’s Insight. She has been interviewed by ABC-, NBC-, FOX-, and CBS-affiliated television news programs throughout the Midwest of the United States.