A photo taken by the late Dr. Russell Sacco at the helm of the pro-life movement, showing the perfectly-formed feet of an aborted baby held between finger and thumb, proved that unborn babies are not mere “clumps of cells.” Half a century later, the photo is more important than ever.
Oregon Right to Life (ORTL) was founded in 1970 to oppose the legalization of abortion in Oregon. Five years later, pro-life champion Sacco co-founded ORTL’s Education Foundation.
The executive director of ORTL, Lois Anderson, 56, is a born and raised Oregonian and has been working at the organization since 1999.
“[Sacco] was an early leader and a visionary,” Anderson told The Epoch Times. “I always saw him as single-minded and fearless. It was an inspiration to me that someone who had worked for so long in the movement, and had seen so much, would still have so much passion and energy.”
‘It Was perfect’
Sacco was a practicing urologist in Oregon, a Catholic, a married father of four, and a grandfather to eight. The iconic photo that catapulted the pro-life movement was taken at a Portland hospital in 1970, during a meeting between Sacco and a fellow pro-life pathologist, for whom one professional responsibility was to destroy the bodies of babies after abortions.
The pathologist didn’t feel able to do this, explained ORTL, sharing Sacco’s story on Facebook, and placed some of the bodies into a bucket of formaldehyde. Sacco was shocked and gained his colleague’s consent to take photos of the aborted babies for educational purposes.
To convey their size and scale, Sacco held the tiny, perfectly-formed feet of one 10-week-old fetus between his thumb and forefinger; if people knew what an unborn baby looked like, maybe they would reconsider their stance on abortion.
According to OTRL, Sacco said: “I was crying because I felt so bad, it just really got to me. I really didn’t think the photo would be anything, but God must have taken the picture because it was perfect, and I knew that this would be one powerful way to send a message to the world.”
An Iconic Symbol
Sacco refused to copyright his image so that it could be freely used as an educational tool worldwide.
Dr. John Willke, the founder of Cincinnati Right to Life, printed the photo in his book, “Handbook on Abortion,” after meeting Sacco at a conference in 1971, and the tiny feet were later made into a commemorative pin by Virginia Evers.
“Precious Feet” became the international symbol of the anti-abortion movement. Anderson first became aware of the “Precious Feet” pin as a College Republican and was deeply affected.
“We showed the film ‘The Silent Scream’ as one of our on-campus activities, and gave out the pins, encouraging students to wear them,” Anderson said. “The photo is, first of all, beautiful; it’s an image that captures attention and it became a powerful symbol of the movement to end abortion. Like the photo, the pins are an iconic symbol of the effort to restore human rights to the unborn, a conversation-starter, and a silent witness.”
Sacco passed away from cancer in June 2019 at the age of 83, survived by his wife of 58 years, Elizabeth. ORTL celebrated 50 years of advocacy in 2020 and still gives away hundreds of pins every year. More than 20 million have been distributed worldwide.
Anderson maintains that there is “a lot of confusion” about fetal development owing to the efforts of pro-abortion activists. “We’ve seen people claim that our medically-accurate fetal models are disinformation,” she said. “Many people don’t understand, and are even resistant to, evidence-based information including that unborn babies can feel pain at least as early as 15 weeks.”
Anderson believes the widespread claims that unborn babies are “just a clump of cells,” or “a blob of protoplasm,” are “blatant attempts to dehumanize a vulnerable class of human beings.” ORTL upholds the established scientific consensus that in human reproduction fertilization results in a “new, distinct human being.”
Since the conclusion of Roe v. Wade, there is no constitutional right to abortion. Anderson, who once met Sacco in person when he spoke at an ORTL Roe v. Wade memorial rally, maintains that abortion is immoral at every point of gestation. She concedes only to rare cases in which a mother may have a life-threatening condition and medical procedures “intended to treat her condition may result in the unintended death of her preborn baby.”
Sacco’s “Precious Feet” reminds the pro-life movement what it’s fighting for, and reminds bystanders of an objective scientific truth.
“We love to look to the future, as we should,” Anderson said. “However, I think it deepens our understanding to look back and learn from the founders and early leaders of our movement. We don’t want to miss what they have to teach us, including the opportunity to follow in their footsteps, like Sacco, who shared the truth and it turned out to have a global impact.”
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