“He Gets Us” Gets the Pro-Life Movement

Over the past two weeks, a controversy has roiled the pro-life movement online over the portrayal of anti-abortion outreach in the now famous “He Gets Us” ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Many pro-life leaders, like my friends Ryan Bomberger, Seth Drayer, Jonathon Van Maren, and others, have sharply criticized the ad.

I think they’re wrong.

It was quite a strange moment for me as a pro-life activist and the head of a national anti-abortion organization when that family planning clinic scene flashed by during the big game.

Wait! What? What are they saying about me?

I’ll admit, I was ready to be offended. Our movement has so often been portrayed in a negative light across the mainstream media—especially since the Dobbs ruling in summer 2022.

But the scene had passed by before I could really form an opinion. I was tempted to rewind and watch it again, but decided instead to save it for later and just continue enjoying the game, mildly rooting for Kansas City on behalf of a dear friend who’s a life-long fan.

Upon returning to my office that Monday and taking a closer look at that scene — and rewatching the whole ad countless times — I have come to regard it as one of the most positive portrayals of the pro-life movement I’ve ever seen in popular culture, while also offering an opportunity to reflect on how we could do better.

I realize that mine is a minority view — at least among those who have taken to social media to voice their opinions in the days since the ad aired. Many have decided that the ad is intended to mock the pro-life movement, denounce us for not really caring about women, or even advance the view that Jesus supports abortion.

Let’s take a closer look at that scene to see why I think my friends are wrong.

The Foot Washer Has to Be a Pro-Life Activist

At the center of this scene, we see a middle-aged woman in a blue sweater washing the feet of a much younger woman. Directly above and behind them, a sign on the building reads, “Family Planning Clinic.” In the background next to the building, we see seven figures holding anti-abortion signs at their sides, apparently having just finished picketing the place. (I’ll get back to them later.)

No one has any doubt that this is an abortion facility. On that we are agreed. Nearly everyone has also concluded that the young woman is either planning to get an abortion, or has just had one. Her youth and the tattoo partially visible on her right calf suggest this interpretation is correct. I’d argue that she has just had an abortion, in witness of which I note the dismayed look on her face, as well as the fact that the protest appears to have ended: the abortion facility has closed.

But who is the older woman washing her feet? Some have claimed that she is a staff member of the family planning clinic, possibly a clinic escort. But reviewing the other scenes in the “He Gets Us” ad makes this interpretation untenable.

In each of these scenes, we are presented with two figures — the foot washer, and the one whose feet are being washed — in whom we recognize some kind of opposition. A young son with dyed hair “versus” his conservative looking father; a blonde preppy high school girl and an arty looking classmate with pink hair; a rancher and a native American; an apparently undocumented migrant being bussed to Chicago and a suburban white woman, and so forth.

So if the young woman in the family planning clinic scene is seeking or has just had an abortion, then the woman washing her feet — according to the internal “rules” by which this ad unfolds — must be understood as anti-abortion. In other words, a pro-lifer.

I will go farther, and argue that she is a pro-life activist. Either she has just come over from the group of activists chatting after their protest, or she was already there sidewalk counseling — offering abortion alternatives to clients of the clinic. Where else could she have come from? In every other scene, the foot washer clearly comes from inside that scene. Our foot washer here cannot be a random passerby, let alone a staffer or volunteer from the clinic. She’s one of us.

What’s more, she looks the part. I’ve been around the pro-life movement since I was six years old, and I’ve been working full time in pro-life ministry for over twenty years. If I was going to cast someone to play a compassionate sidewalk counselor, I’d pick this woman!

Finally, for anyone still in doubt, I note that Julia Fullerton-Batten, the photographer of all these scenes, titles this picture “Pro Choice and Pro Life” on her website.

Foot Washing Is Not “Affirming Sin”

So if the older woman in the family planning clinic scene is one of us, why is she washing the feet of the young woman who has just had an abortion? Is she “affirming her in her sin,” as some have claimed? Are we being instructed by this ad that if we were “really” Christian, we’d support a young woman’s decision to get an abortion?

Now, I’m not going to get into an analysis of the entire ad — though I will say I don’t understand the common complaint that it fails to speak of transformation or redemption. Must every single message about the Gospel tell the whole story? Are we not allowed to tell a hurting friend, “Jesus loves you,” without immediately rushing to talk about sin, punishment, and eternal hellfire?

So why are so many saying the ad is “affirming people in their sins”? I think they’re simply reading this into the ad, which they consider to be taking sides on political conflicts like immigration, gay rights, and, in our family planning clinic scene, abortion.

Yet most of the scenes we are shown in the ad aren’t obviously political, and don’t invoke polarizing issues. What’s political about the young man with bleached hair washing his father’s feet — what sin do we imagine the son to be “affirming”? What sin has the pink-haired high schooler committed that the preppy girl is trying to affirm? Look through all twelve of these scenes yourself and see how few allow even the possibility of such an interpretation. Pay special attention to the image of the daughter washing her alcoholic mother’s feet. Are we to imagine this heartbreaking scene affirms alcoholism?

The act of washing someone’s feet does not “affirm them in their sin,” and there is no warrant for that interpretation anywhere in Scripture. That’s not what foot washing means in the Bible, not what it means in this ad, and not what it means in real life. On the contrary, we wash feet because they are dirty. The only thing being “affirmed” in these scenes is that someone’s feet are dirty and need to be cleaned.

And if you look a little closer at the actual images — instead of looking for reasons to be offended — you will see that both figures have removed their shoes. Both of us have dirty feet, we are both in need of the cleansing waters.

The Abortion Clinic Is a Dump

Let’s return to the family planning clinic scene. Those claiming that this scene delivers a pro-abortion message have overlooked several key details. Nothing about the physical scene here suggests that abortion is a good thing.

The abortion facility itself looks forbidding (this is even more evident in the full photograph). The off-white bricks are smudged, the door dark and heavy, and a “Warning” sign confronts those entering. An ugly camera is trained on the sidewalk, which is speckled with debris. The sidewalk and curb out front are cracked and broken.

This is not a positive portrayal of an abortion facility! And to anyone who has actually engaged in the pro-life ministry of sidewalk counseling, the depiction is dead on. If the producers of this ad wanted to promote abortion, they’d have shown us one of Planned Parenthood’s state-of-the-art facilities. But they didn’t. If they’re trying to do pro-abortion propaganda, they’re doing a poor job of it.

Instead they’ve portrayed an abortion facility as a nasty place, an abortion client as dismayed with unhappiness, and a pro-life activist as caring and nonjudgmental — just as we train our sidewalk counselors to be.

What about the Protesters with the Signs?

Now let’s turn to the protesters on the side of the building. I’ll concede that the message here may be critical: picketing isn’t what’s needed outside an abortion clinic. I’ve led numerous protests outside abortion clinics and in many other places, but I have to say that in general I agree: picketing shouldn’t be our priority outside abortion clinics.

Instead, we try to create an atmosphere of peace and calm. We want the women entering these facilities to feel like they can come up and talk to us. Picket signs and the rallying cries that typify a  protest undermine that effort to make a one-on-one connection with the woman.

Public protests and demonstrations are important — my organization has coordinated over 5,000 of them over the past twelve years. But they’re not the only way we do pro-life outreach. It’s also possible to protest for the wrong reasons or with the wrong spirit.

In the scene before us here, what’s called for is what we’re seeing in the foreground: ministering to the woman who needs our help in this moment.

There’s another message we might pick up from this scene, too. Notice that the pro-life group is gathered together, talking amongst themselves.

Too often, that’s just what we do: talk amongst ourselves. We use words and phrases like “abortion mill,” “preborn child,” and “abortifacient” that sound weird to anyone outside our movement. (Even as I write, the word “preborn” is marked on screen as a misspelling; nobody but pro-lifers use this word, which has clearly failed to work its magic of somehow making other people sympathize with prenatal children.)

We say things like “abortion is murder” in our Facebook feeds, without considering how this will be received by anyone who might see those words without sharing our convictions. We think we’re saying something profound and Biblical, but what we’re really telling people is that we think their sister, aunt, or friend who had an abortion is a murderer. We’re driving them away.

The fallout from the Dobbs ruling has made it painfully clear that we need to reconsider how we talk about abortion outside our pro-life circles — and even inside those circles, where we learn and practice ways of speaking about the heartbreaking reality of abortion.

I don’t know if that’s the message the creators of this ad are offering, but it certainly is a problem worth considering. If all they were trying to do was denounce pro-life activism, they could have made that group of protesters look angry or aggressive — for example, by putting that slogan “Abortion Is Murder” on one of their signs. Instead they say things like “Save the Unborn” and “Choice or Child?”

That’s why I think the folks behind “He Gets Us” may be subtly inviting us to reconsider our approach. We shouldn’t — we mustn’t — be afraid to do this kind of soul searching.

The “He Gets Us” Ad Endorses Abortion Clinic Outreach

Whatever the creators of this ad may be trying to say about anti-abortion protest, the attitudes of pro-life activists, or the way we’re talking to the culture about abortion, one thing is clear — the foot-washing that the ad says is Christ-like is only taking place in this scene because pro-life people are there.

In the end, the creators of the “He Gets Us” campaign are endorsing our pro-life presence outside abortion facilities, even if they’re also offering a critique of how we sometimes present ourselves.

That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that “He Gets Us” gets the pro-life movement. It gets our desire to speak up for the lives of unborn children. It gets the challenge we face in presenting our message to a culture that we don’t always understand and that fundamentally doesn’t understand us.

Above all, it gets that if we’re going to follow Christ, we need to be there at the abortion clinics.

Friends, let’s take the win.

Note: This article was originally published at LifeNews.com here.

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