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91 Life Is Beautiful (1997)One of my favorite films is Roberto Benigni’s 1997 tragicomedy, La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful). It tells the story of a Jewish father, Guido, who invents creative ways to keep his son out of danger while they endure life in a concentration camp.

There is a scene in that film that continues to haunt me. Guido is a waiter serving German officials and their wives as they gather for an evening of fine dining. While the Nazis are eating and drinking in luxury, the horror of the concentration camp lies just beyond the walls.

But then, one of the German officials who knew Guido before the start of the war calls him over for a private conversation. Guido has every reason to think that this officer wants to help him and his family survive. Instead, the German officer picks up where they left off years before. You see, Guido was good at solving riddles, and this officer needs help in solving a particularly perplexing one.

The conversation is long. It goes on for several torturous minutes. As it dawns on him that the officer has given no thought to assisting him, Guido remains silent – his face filling with pain and disbelief. And in a moment of tragic and terrifying irony, Guido – a Jew who is seen as less than human by the Nazis – is the picture of humanity that stands over against the cold indifference of the Nazi officer.

“A Shrugging of the Shoulders”

I’ve thought of that scene a few times as I’ve read some of the online defenses of Planned Parenthood.

In New York magazine, for example, Rebecca Traister claims that the “big secret of abortion” is that “women already know how it works” – that pro-life efforts to show us the results of the procedure won’t really change minds, no matter how grisly the videos get. Quoting Frances Kissling, she writes: “Abortions are yucky… but after that response, there is a shrugging of the shoulders.”

That shrugging of the shoulders is what scares me to death.

Yes, I know there are pro-choice activists who, in light of these videos, are rethinking their position on abortion.

Yes, I know there are politicians on both sides of the aisle who find the videos disturbing.

Yes, I trust there are people who have shifted in their views due to the videos.

But the shrug is what scares me. It frightens me to think that we live in a society that can watch this kind of violence against the defenseless, say “Oh well!,” and then click to the next news story.

If They Only Knew?

Many in the pro-life movement think the problem in our culture is one of ignorance. If just enough Americans knew what was really going on in these abortion clinics… If only they saw the freezers full of baby parts… If they could see how we chop up the unborn and sell off their parts… they would be outraged and would demand we stop the carnage!

So, we have blamed the media for not covering these stories sufficiently or for reporting them with blatant bias. That blame is justifiable. Media bias remains one of the strongest obstacles to the pro-life cause.

Still, we assume that once our fellow citizens see the victims, once people realize that there is always a dead body after an abortion, once people see the bloody reality behind our euphemisms like “products of conception,” and “fetal tissue,” and “reproductive health,” then they will finally say, “Enough!”

I hope that assumption proves right.

But it scares me to death that we may be wrong. It frightens me to think we live in a society that knows full well what we are doing and simply doesn’t care.

The shrug is the sign we have become a shell of humanity – a soulless society where the baby hearts we sell are bigger than our hearts that are still beating. We live in a world in which people can look square into the faces of tiny human beings and talk about how much money their organs will bring in.

“Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder,” says Leon Kass. The absence of societal shuddering in response to the Planned Parenthood videos frightens me more than the videos themselves.

God, Open Eyes

What does this mean for us as we go forward? At the national prayer breakfast in 2012, when Eric Metaxas shared the platform with President Obama, he compared the pro-life movement to Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, explaining how we are to treat people whose eyes are blind to the humanity of the unborn:

Wilberforce saw what the people in his day didn’t see, and we celebrate him for it. Bonhoeffer saw what others did not see…

Apart from God, we cannot see that the unborn are persons. Those of us who know the unborn are human beings are commanded by God to love those who do not yet see that. We need to know that apart from God we would be on the other side of that divide…

Metaxas is right. That’s why we must pray – that God will open eyes to see the gift of human life and the tragedy of our killing clinics. After all, had God not opened our own eyes, we would be shrugging too.


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30 thoughts on “The Shrug That Scares Me To Death”

  1. Scott Youngman says:

    As Jim Petersen wrote in his book Living Proof, “The basic obstacle to faith is rebellion, not ignorance.” So too with the shrugged shoulders over abortion: the problem is not a lack of knowledge.

  2. Wesley says:

    So good (and haunting) Trev. Thanks for this. I remember sitting in a lecture once actually where the speaker showed that many major victories against human rights injustice came from the use of graphic images. From the drawing of how slaves were packed like sardines in slave ships that sparked outrage in Britain, to the photos of children working in factories that brought an end to child labour in the US in the early C19 I believe it was, the reality is that the PP videos *are* changing things no matter how hard people “shrug.” But I so believe what you say: that only the Spirit of God can truly change a heart, and so we all pray alongside you that God would do that here and everywhere His creation is brutalized.

  3. Jonathan Vlietstra says:

    Of course you omit that the video regarding planned parenthood was heavily edditted and faked in order to promote a false narrative. Not to mention that abortion is only a fraction of what PP does – they deal more with contraceptives, general health as well as helping people who want to have children with prenatal care.
    “If only they saw the freezers full of baby parts…” That’s as much of an exaggeration as saying that Christian churches have back rooms where altar boys are chained to the wall with their pants off…
    Im sure you can agree that an abortion done in month 1 is better than one in month 8. Forcing women to carry unwanted children leads to more back alley late abortions.
    If you truly wanted to stop abortions, you would promote sexual education and contraceptives. And adoption.
    Forcing women to bring unwanted pregnancies to term creates poverty. And poverty creates suffering and crime.

    1. Chris says:

      Jonathan, there is so much evidence to prove how wrong you are regarding the videos being edited. And you have no evidence to prove anything is fake. It is real, and unedited versions of videos have been released to prove all comments offered by PP reps were presented accurately. Abortion is far more than a fraction of what PP does. Performing 300,000 abortions in a year is horrible and sad. There is no exaggeration of storage of baby parts. It was reported this week that StemExpress is requesting 50 livers a week from PP. No, I wouldn’t agree that abortion after month 1 is better than month 8. It is a horrible mistreatment of a human life no matter the stage. And the back alley analogy is weak. That aspect of shame is no longer prevalent today. Women now have more access to pregnancy centers where they can receive guidance and support. The only thing you and I find agreement is on adoption. That is a far better option and should receive more promotion. So yes, I along with many others who respect the sanctity of life truly want to stop abortions. I hope you truly want to stop abortions too. If so, quit condoning what Planned Parenthood is doing.

      1. Cedric says:

        Chris: Yes, what PP does is disgusting. But if you “wouldn’t agree that abortion after month 1 is better than month 8″, I think you’re part of the problem, because nobody will take you seriously.

        1. Chris says:

          How am I part of the problem? Cedric, if you don’t believe that life is to be honored at all stages then you are part of the problem. The problem is callousness that needs to be softened and willing to see how valuable human life is and how horrible and, in your words, disgusting the practice of abortion is. Because you don’t believe it’s not disgusting at one month but is at eight months is more of a problem because you’re allowing those who support abortion to be justified in their views. Abortion doesn’t just need to end; it needs to be unthinkable.

      2. Chony says:

        Do you truely believe 300,000 children put up for adoption will find a home every year? They barely place children in homes at all due to the cost of adoption. I don’t think a child would wish to grow up feeling unloved. I agree with the person you are responding to, preventions are better than the cure. And those baby parts are being used to cure illnesses that existing people including children and infants who are desperately in need of a scientific break through so they can stop suffering for the rest of their lives, or would your God prefer they suffer? Once the foetus has a heartbeat I agree it should be illegal to abort, but it’s not up to you to decide for other woman the most painful choice of their life. Just because you think they “shrug it off” doesn’t make their pain any less real. They live with their decision for the rest of their life, atleast the sweet innocent baby they couldn’t keep is safe and loved and happy in your heaven with God.

        1. Kat says:

          I would just like to point out that a baby’s (or fetus if you must) heart starts to beat 3-4 weeks after conception. In some cases it may even start to beat before the women knows she is pregnant depending on her period and other things in her life at the time.
          While I admit that an insurge of babies into the foster system would be difficult, I think the problem lies not in whether or not the children should be allowed to be born but in the adoption system. Many couples who wish to have children but are infertile cannot adopt due to the huge fees involved, preventing many children from finding homes.
          Also while I understand the sentiment behind not wanting to risk a child growing up unhappy, even in today’s system, what right have we to deny any child, any baby, a chance to live and potentially find happiness. The pursuit of happiness is quite literally one of our constitutional rights. Why should we deny it to those unborn? In abortions we are depriving them the chance of anything, and we are denying the world them. Statistically speaking, with the same mother and father, there are 7.03 x 10^13 different genetic possibilities for their children, not accounting for the phenomenon of crossing over. The actual number is even larger. That means that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than being born with your genetic code. To put that in perspective, you have a better chance of becoming president than winning the lottery. (I don’t play the lottery) Each and every person in more incredibly unique than we can imagine. What right have we to deny one of them from existing. Each fetus genetic code is a combination of alleles that has never happened before, and will never happen again. I don’t think that should be ended.

    2. Tim says:

      Jonathan I think you just proved the point of the article.

      1. Izak says:

        I had a similar thought. You see, all video is edited. All photography is photoshopped. The evening news is redacted. Now admittedly it is possible to make something look worse through editing, but you still have to explain away the original material. The fact is that original video material exists with a glass container (not unlike those I use to bake things in the oven) with little bits of bloody meat that you can see someone go through, picking up various bits… and then you see a hand, and a foot… sure, that made the final cut for obvious reasons. But “edited” does not allow you to shrug it off.

    3. Liz says:

      Jonathan, check out pp’s own reports which show that the #1 service they provide is abortion. Yes, some clients go there for contraception, but overwhelmingly, clients go there for abortion. Furthermore, to say that women shouldn’t have children they don’t want and that leads to poverty and suffering, is the same argument used by the founder of pp. And she promoted eugenics. You are essentially saying all poor people are criminals and are suffering. Not true. Let’s give women resources to help them, not provide a so-called quick fix.

    4. Jon says:

      “Not to mention that abortion is only a fraction of what PP does…” That fraction, Jonathan, is enough to make Planned Parenthood one of the most evil and disgusting organizations on the planet. Your observation is like saying, “You know only a fraction of the Nazi’s plan to take over Europe included concentration camps and gas chambers. Other than that, they really did a lot of good for people…”

    5. Melody says:

      How do you know any of the things you say to be facts? They aren’t. There are facts that prove everything you say to be wrong.
      Right now there is a “heavily edited” video of a reporter being shot on the air. All video is edited all the time. No one is accusing them of DUBBING them. The words that they say are real. They are really coming out of their mouths. The full 5+hours of video are online if you want context.
      None of that actually matters because when someone parrots all that like you did, they are okay with what abortion entails. You don’t actually care to learn the facts.

  4. Josh Bishop says:

    I also fear the shrug, but I think it comes more from self-defense than apathy. There are enough people in America who have had an abortion (or whose child has been aborted by the mother) that to admit “abortion is murder” is to say “I am a murderer.” They’ll fight tooth and nail to avoid facing the truth of what they themselves have done. If that’s true, then the only real solution is to point them to the grace and forgiveness that can wash them clean.

  5. Julie says:

    I don’t shrug…but I also won’t watch the video’s. I can’t handle it. I am pretty sure there are countless others that can’t either…or even read all the grusome details. I am already against abortion…personally think given all the types of birth control we now have available, why so many abortions are even needed! My question is what exactly is the average person suppose to do with this information? I haven’t a clue. Because its so, so ghastly, its not something I can even engage others in conversation with. It IS too much! I am so repulsed by this, I just want to flee from it. Whoever this group is that did the video taping..the battle seems to be between them and Planned parent hood. I can pray on this….that is all I can mentally and emotionally handle. And like I said, I think I am not alone on this. I think many are turning away not because they are shrugging, but because they truly cannot deal with it.

  6. J.J. Larson says:

    I agree that the shrug scares me. What also scared me is what happens after Planned Parenthood is stopped and abortions are reduced (there are many in other places besides PP that do them). This war has many fronts. Save the preborn, but then what? The body of Christ has to realize that stopping abortion will not change 40 years of free-love thinking over night and unwanted pregnancies will still occur. I think we will do well to adopt new babies, but what about the parents who don’t get the abortion, but who are wholly unprepared to care for a child. They have good intentions, but the child ends up in foster care. There will be decades before change in the culture will take place for people who have been raised poorly and who will raise poorly. The bride of Christ MUST stand in this gap and care for foster children. We MUST stand in the gap and adopt foster kids with parental rights terminated, including those with disabilities and those older newborns.

    We MUST start opening our hearts to this reality as we work to save the unborn. Period. If you march, you better be willing to open your home, advocate for children in crisis, mentor young and single mothers, give real relationship to those who long for it to help them not make the same mistakes over and over.

  7. Leena says:

    Like what a friend of mine said at one time, perhaps women should be handed over the remains of their choice in order to dispose of the body themselves. Actually having to hold the product of their lust might help them see a little clearer.

  8. Man’s problem is the same as it has always been: Sin. What did John say

    “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)

    You said something that struck me: The hearts of the aborted babies are bigger than those of the ones who shudder. Not physically, but perhaps they are hearts of flesh, certainly they aren’t hardened by years of living in sin such as the ones who shudder as it says in your article. Psalm 72:12-14 says this:

    “For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.
    He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
    From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
    and precious is their blood in his sight.”

    I think God does indeed care for the little ones who have been aborted. I’ve talked with many Pastors and others about whether aborted babies are “Saved” by God’s lovingkindness and mercy, and I tell them that our Bible doesn’t tell us there is an “Age of accountability” but it does tell us He cares for the helpless. There’s another passage in Isaiah 49:15-16 where the Lord says:

    “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
    Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
    Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.”

    God will not forget those unborn children, but He may forget us. We must forgive those who “Shudder” and carry on, believing that God will make the victory for us. We won’t win them all, but God didn’t call us to do that, He calls us to be obedient.

  9. crystal says:

    This could be turned around – do pro-life people realize how awful illegal back street abortions are for women, that many die? Do they make an effort to learn all the gory details? Would they change their minds about outlawing abortion if they did? I think they’d just shrug.

    1. Rudi says:

      So your reasoning goes that unless we help people to kill children in order to prevent them killing those same children anyway later, we’re doing something wrong? That we should be accessories to murder in order to ensure the health & safety of the murderers? And that if we don’t assist murderers in committing murder, then we’re responsible for what happens to them while they’re involved in committing the act of murder? I completely fail to see the logic here.

  10. Anna says:

    When people say that the “back alley analogy is weak” I think they must forget that a significant reason for that is the increase in women’s ability to receive a safe, legal abortion. There is quite a lot of short-shortsightedness in the argument to make abortions illegal. One of those is that they will still occur, enabling a new form of black market business that already exists but will become the only way. Do you really think making abortion illegal will stop the selling of aborted babies and their organs? It won’t. It will simply take it away from public scrutiny completely and enable the black market to thrive. Very few women choose to have an abortion lightly. I myself have been in a situation where I could have been validated by many for choosing abortion: medical birth control failed and my husband lost his job at the same time. I chose to not have an abortion. I chose life for my child. That doesn’t make me better than the woman who, in the same circumstances, chose to have an abortion. She made a decision based on her medical and financial status, a decision that women have been making since they have been able to conceive. To legally make it a crime to seek a safe abortion does not increase morality or even save lives. It just decreases your ability to know how many have made that decision. It also creates a waiting period for women who have health complications related to pregnancy that require the termination of the pregnancy. Do you think it won’t do that? It already has done so. In some cases, women who are pregnant become so ill that a pregnancy must be ended or they forfeit both their life and the life of their unborn child. Something must be done quickly, and having to gain approvals or go to a certain clinic or hospital “certified” to do that procedure can easily result in the loss of both lives. I have always held that I could never get an abortion, and that if I were forced to do so due to a circumstance of health during pregnancy it would devastate me. But that is me, and my choice. It is not something I take lightly. Most who seek abortions do not do so lightly, either. It should remain a choice, and one that is easily regulated so as to avoid encouraging an increased black market in tissues and organs.

    And one more thing: free love culture is nothing new. It’s also not nearly as prevalent as you think. The more education people receive about STIs, birth control, and healthy relationships, the better and more stable the community becomes.

  11. Anne says:

    That’s awesome that so many here put such a high value on life! How long have you all been vegan for?

  12. Stopping By says:

    The videos never shocked me because I figured PP was doing that all along. The stem cell research issue was a big deal going back to the Bush years. When Michael J. Fox spoke to the Senate about embryonic stem cell research funding, what did people think he was talking about? When you heard those rumors about beauty cream and hair conditioner being enhanced with aborted tissue, how do you suppose that process happened? Some of the more ardent pro-lifers were talking about this 20 years ago, and the “moderate” pro-lifers called them cooky, embarrassing, etc because there was no proof and even PP couldn’t be that bad.

    Jill Stanek exposed abortion’s depravity a long time ago. The depravity of eugenics on the whole — which is what modern abortion is — came into crystal clear vision at places like Auswitz. We’re past the point of thinking people just need to see how bad it is. The cat was out of the bag a long time before this round of videos. And maybe, one day in the far future, pro-lifers will wake up to realize that American society simply and frankly is that depraved.

    The war against the Third Reich isn’t over yet.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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