Kathryn Coers Rossman

Photographer
 
Pro-Life in Practice (Not Just Principle)
Location: Bloomington, IN, USA
Nationality: American
Biography: Kathryn Coers Rossman (kathryncoersrossman.com, insta: @kathryncoersrossman ) is a photojournalist, conceptual photographer and creative director in Bloomington, IN, USA. She studied modernism, literature and urbanism in graduate school at New... MORE
Public Story
Pro-Life in Practice (Not Just Principle)
Copyright Kathryn Coers Rossman 2024
Updated Feb 2024
Topics Abortion, Black and White, Faith, Family, Motherhood, News, Parenting & Family, Photography, Photojournalism, Politics, Portraiture, Religion, US Politics, Womens Rights
While outrage over the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade is very real, many Middle American communities are celebrating the court's decision. Coastal and urban inhabitants may be unfamiliar with the advertising habits of the pro-life movement in the Heartland. Anti-abortion signage, seen by some as crucial and compelling, by others as distasteful and hyperbolic, is a frequent feature in the Midwestern United States, where the battle against Roe v. Wade has led some right-to-life advocates to speckle the landscape with large roadside advertisements of smiling babies, endangered fetuses and reminders that Jesus will return.

Greene County Right to Life, a pro-life interest group, maintains 16 billboards near Bloomfield, Ind. Funded by donations, the printing and installation of each sign costs $1,000. Five signs have been destroyed by spray paint, two knocked down by vehicle accidents and two removed by property owners. All the signs are on private property.

Tasha and Braden Hudson have two signs and six crosses in their front yard. High school sweethearts now turning forty, they were raised Baptist and have been pro-life for as long as they can remember. They believe that being pro-life means supporting the women that choose life and have been foster parents to 19 children over 7 years, adopting 5. For the Hudsons, it is not enough that life begins at conception, but it is also necessary to consider what happens to a child born into difficult circumstances. They asked themselves, "What are we going to do about it?" and the answer was, "Well, I guess that means we're going to foster." After saying it out loud, they had to do it.

The Hudson family believes that many unwanted pregnancies, as well as female disenfranchisement, early childhood trauma and fractured families, can be addressed best by combating systemic poverty and drug use and that women would want to follow through with their pregnancies if they had the means. In their experience with Child Protective Services, the use of opioids and methamphetamines is a feature in most instances of "emergency removal."

"It is a complete misconception that pro-life people only care about birth," Braden said.

The Hudsons feel that all Americans — conservative and liberal, pro-life and pro-choice, religious and non-believers — might find commonality and kinship by abandoning political cross-talk and joining together in an effort to effectively fight destitution and addiction. "The system is rigged against poor people," Braden reflected, "We have more class mobility in the United States than any other place in the world. It is really hard to break the poverty cycle and people in the poverty cycle turn to drugs."

While the Hudsons do not believe that being poor is a justification for abortion, there is nuance in their beliefs. They support medically necessary termination, stating it "should not even be called abortion, but something else."

During their formative years, they questioned their beliefs in order to cement their ethical values. "If I did not question it, it would not be real to me. It would be someone else's faith. If I was only brainwashed into believing what I believe, it would not be worth much," said Braden. They have come to the conclusion that the unborn have the same rights as every other human.

The Indiana legislature passed SB 1, the first anti-abortion bill signed after the fall of Roe v. Wade, on Aug. 5. The law, which took effect on Sept. 15, was paused after an injunction was issued by a lower court judge a week later. The injunction argues that SB 1 violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Photographs taken in Greene county near Bloomfield, Ind., on May 8, June 20 and July 20, 2022. (Kathryn Coers Rossman)

AFTERWORD BY THE PHOTOGRAPHER:

My lifestyle is unhealthy.

A total Scrooge, I have Malthusian views on population control and dream of touring the world’s great landmarks alone. I suffer from social anxiety and antisocial tendencies and basically hate people generally. When I watch zombie flicks, I think: “Yeah, that’s the future.” In such a way, I’m OK with aborting all the babies, any baby, I don’t care. People are cockroaches. Civilization is collapsing. Bugger off everyone!

And then there’s the Hudson family who refreshingly value life from the moment of conception. That takes remarkable optimism and dedication. They are civically minded and make lasting contributions to the children in their community. It seems strange that I should ever consider judging them given their huge acts of goodwill.

I found the Hudson family because they advertised their beliefs on their front lawn. It was while driving to the Greene County Master Gardener flower and patio show that I spotted my first Right-to-Life sign. There were so many signs - one about every mile or so - and their messaging grabbed your attention. The signs bewitched me. I had to photograph them.

Shooting began on Mother’s Day. Parked on a state highway, the main thoroughfare through the county, I paused to do my work. A dozen or so vehicles passed by. Let them think you’re photographing the wildlife, I told myself, a birdwatcher, blending in. Shy about my new project, I aimed for the woods.

At first, I photographed the signs only. Stains on the landscape. I imagined driving past all those billboards on the way to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. They felt predatory and traumatizing.

Friends urged me to consider safety. The owners might be pro-life radicals, connected to bigger networks. I had given Tasha my contact details.

When the Hudson family reached out, I was nervous. They were fellow Hoosiers, from one county over, and I felt fearful of them. Why?

I scheduled a meeting with Tasha anyway. It felt like the most radical thing I could do.

Coming from the nearest university town, driving through Greene County is like a rural safari, looking more closely at blind spots from my liberal upbringing. My family came from rural Indiana and I was a bookish city girl with a liberal arts degree.

From my experience, many younger women are consumed with the political part of reproductive rights, without considering the services and care community required to raise children until babies come along. Support structures are not being passed down between the generations. Parental burnout is beyond the tipping point while babysitting costs $25 an hour. It is undeniable that reproductive rights offer women freedom and equity, but women will not be free and our contribution valued until women are valued and support each other at every stage of life.

My son had been home on summer break for three months. Burnout informed my work. I want reproductive freedom, but I also want comfort, rest, a break from politics, my child to thrive, community, health and success. I can not debate wedged issues and obsess about abortion anymore.

Finishing this story was challenging. I was emotionally drained. Writing to contextually support my photos was a tightrope walk and I was feeling the personal impact of losing a fundamental human right. As I wrapped up loose ends, Indiana became the first state to pass new, sweeping restrictions on abortion. The vote occurred on my fortieth birthday.

PROJECT OVERVIEW:

I sought to provide a “roadmap to understanding” the prolife movement.

Pro-life people, like Tasha and Braden, are indoctrinated from childhood. They are religious. Their churches strongly reinforce pro-life beliefs, are their social network and provide ample support to families and the greater community. Some children attend schools that teach religious doctrine. Braden advised, “The people we know that go far to help people in need are people in churches.” The Hudson’s church urged them to become foster parents and helped expand their home to accommodate a growing family.

I believe there is more nuance in the pro-life/pro-choice debate than we are currently seeing reported. Most publications only show pro-choice protest signage, which is problematic. My work aims to fight divisiveness.

APPROACH TO PHOTOJOURNALISM AND VISUAL STORYTELLING:

Kathryn, influenced by 1980s punk subculture, wants to engage the most provocative topics she can find. She believes that individualism is a disempowering, isolating force. Kathryn tries to build bridges by displaying our inherent commonality. She believes photojournalism should be a tool to challenge, rather than affirm, our convictions.  

An Indiana native, Kathryn is committed to capturing the Midwest with authenticity. She will not employ gimmicks or clichés about flyover country in her work and is not seeing rural America for the first time. Kathryn is a proud Hoosier who believes in the dignity and ingenuity of her neighbors and home state. She is deeply concerned about cultural divisiveness, hopes her work is void of political influence and claims no political affiliation whatsoever.

Kathryn may capture politicized topics, but endeavors with great intentionality to do so without bias. She feels that Midwestern stories should be told by Midwestern photojournalists. Kathryn pursues underrepresented topics. She believes that documentary photographers must be polite observers and that everyone she photographs is owed her full attention and respect.

Please note, Kathryn is a photographer. Content was created to support the photographs. This is a photo essay.
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Pro-Life in Practice (Not Just Principle) by Kathryn Coers Rossman
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