NRL News

So Many Empty Chairs: Putting a face on tragedy

by | Feb 27, 2017

By Joleigh Little, Region Coordinator and Teens for Life Director, Wisconsin Right to Life

Clara and Annelise

Clara and Annelise


So not my thing.

I prefer letters that make words which become sentences. In fact, I love them. And while abortion can be explained in words, opposed in words and, eventually, eradicated with words, I don’t think it can be adequately understood without the numbers.

Knowing this, I tried to wrap my tiny fourteen year old brain around the numbers. It was 1985. I’d just marked the 12th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – my first as a full-fledged right-to-life advocate.

Our cold Wisconsin winter morphed into spring and one rainy Saturday when I was home alone I decided to try to not only understand the vastness of the abortion tragedy, but to help explain it to others.

I knew that abortion killed 1.5 million children a year (thankfully now under one million). I figured I would pull out the old stack of catalogs on our living room shelf and cut out the faces of the kids in the children’s clothing section. Logic dictated that after a good, hard day’s work I would be well on my way. My goal was a display banner that would show the tragedy of abortion.

A simple banner with 1.5 million faces on it. (I laugh now and understand the frustration my math teachers felt all those years.)

So I got out my scissors, stacked up three or four massive catalogs alongside my paper, glue and paintbrush, and I went at it. I cut carefully around tiny faces. I left entire legions of child models headless. I cut for hours, amassing what I was certain was a large dent in my project.

Once all of the catalogs were depleted, I decided to tally them up. I knew I’d probably have to borrow a few more catalogs to get the job done, but I was pretty sure I was well on my way. I counted the faces.

One hundred and seventy six. I had cut out 176 faces. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t more. I counted again and moved everything off the table to make sure I hadn’t missed a million or so that were lost under a pile of paper scraps. I still only had 176.

I got a calculator and did the math. It had taken me a whole afternoon to cut out faces equal to the number of babies killed by abortion in one hour! I looked down at those faces on the table and then it hit me. Babies were being aborted faster than they could be cut out of magazines and glued on a piece of paper.

I spent the next half hour locked in our downstairs bathroom sobbing uncontrollably. It seemed the numbers had won that round.

I found other ways to explain the devastation that was abortion — ways that were easier to picture and equally upsetting. In a classroom full of students, nearly every third chair was empty because of abortion. A child died from abortion every 20 seconds in America. But still that number eluded me.

Decades after the baby faces incident, I assigned my camp team kids to count grains of rice. We got our 1.5 million grains in bottles, jars and bags, and we put it out on the stage at a Wisconsin Teens for Life Convention. It certainly had an impact. But as a traveling display it was impractical, for the simple reason that it was too heavy to carry.

As is the burden of what we know. Three words.

Abortion… kills… children. On a massive scale with calculated brutality.

Beyond that, abortion scars women and their families. This ripple effect mocks the absurd notion that abortion is a “woman’s decision.”

The loss to our society is incalculable. We have lost brilliant doctors and researchers, eloquent lawyers, dedicated teachers, colorful personalities and so much more – each of them gone before they even drew a breath.

I think sometimes we avoid numbers because they are just plain overwhelming. The baby faces project and the grains of rice project show those numbers, but what they can’t show us is the humanity of what we’ve lost. And that, even more than the numbers, is the real tragedy.

When I think about abortion and what it has cost us, my mind inevitably goes to the individual child who is aborted.

Specifically, as we ponder the Roe v. Wade decision, and as I ponder the countless and senseless deaths, I try to imagine what we’ve truly lost.

And that is nearly impossible to do without putting a face on the tragedy.

Think about it for a minute. Every child lost is someone’s son or daughter — a grandchild, a sister or a brother, a cousin, a niece or nephew… a person. Not a potential person. Not a “baby to be” but a real, living human child.

When I try to imagine the world without my daughters Clara and Annelise my heart breaks. Unlike millions in similar situations to theirs, they are here. They are alive. They laugh, play, love, and will grow up to make a difference. They and so many others are the faces we need to see when we hear about abortion.

And then we need to multiply those faces millions of times over. And we still haven’t accounted for the massive, incalculable loss now over 59 million.

So as we commemorate the loss of life today, be mindful of the numbers. But also be mindful of the individual lives lost and how much every single one matters to all of us. And mourn, because every child killed by abortion takes with her or him a little piece of who we are.

In the words of 17th Century English poet, John Donne,

“Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. “

Categories: Roe v. Wade