Reflections on Showing Graphic Abortion Photographs

Reflections on Showing Graphic Abortion Photographs January 25, 2020

These are my comments (2-3 January 2017) from a long Facebook discussion thread, that was about my article, Showing Graphic Abortion Photos: Justifiable and Necessary (+ Facebook discussion) [12-17-10]

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Is it permissible and/or helpful to show graphic abortion photos: babies that have been gruesomely torn limb-from-limb or burned; murdered? I say yes.

The same people who are dead set against showing photos of aborted children, think nothing of showing pictures of, e.g., a dead refugee child washed ashore, or heartrending images of a bloodied, injured orphaned child (always a child) tragically caught up in the horrors and atrocities of Aleppo, Syria: precisely because they know that they will have a powerful emotional impact.

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I rarely use them, myself. But I don’t see how anyone can absolutely oppose it in principle. I have a collection of such photos in one of my Facebook photo albums.

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I granted in the piece that this [not showing them to young children] was a valid argument, and I would usually apply it myself. But I can see times like, e.g., if one of my children started talking the typical pro-choice rhetoric about “clumps of cells” etc., that I might have chosen to show them the reality of what abortion is.

Fortunately, it was never necessary, because all four of my children are good Catholics and pro-lifers, and always have been. My three boys have marched in Washington several years. I only did it twice.

But, like you, I’d probably start with the live preborn baby photos.

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Yes of course these pictures are “violent” (they’re disgusting and revolting), but this is the very point: when people want to pretend that abortion is not what it is: is not violent, let alone murder, sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words, just as the horrific movies of the bodies in Nazi concentration camps shocked everyone and woke up more than a few, to the rampant anti-Semitism of Europe, and the diabolical nature of the Nazis: even more than was already known.

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When I used to do street demonstrating about abortion 30 years ago, I made two posters with lots of photographs: one with all intact preborn babies and the other with aborted ones. If someone objected to the latter, I brought out the former and asked them: “do you also have an objection to showing the development of the fetus in the womb?”

I always liked to use my “life” poster a lot more than the other ones with the carnage, because there is far less objection to it; hence, more prospect for success. But both kinds of photos it helped convince me in 1982 on the spot, that abortion was murder, and indefensible. I was a good liberal in every way — a radical one — in the 70s.

In any event, it’s good for folks who would be inclined to oppose those photos, to hear the rationale in favor of them, which is likely not what they would have thought it might be.

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I have argued that it is best used with individuals, with discretion. But it continues to be not morally distinguishable from pictures of the Holocaust, or war refugees, or ISIS victims. As long as those images exist, and no one has any objection to them, I don’t see how abortion photos are a whit different.

The “difference” comes because with abortion, we all know people who have had an abortion, and so it is a very squeamish topic. It’s all around us. It’s our Nazi Holocaust: going on on the next block. We can choose to try to cover it up and make excuses for it, rationalize it, or we can expose it, and that includes (in the right time and place) pictures.

I think the bottom line is that it does indeed cause some people to turn against abortion, or to not have one themselves. If it offends 99 people and the 100th person changes their mind, and/or doesn’t have an abortion, then a life is saved, and that is well worth offending the other 99. Let them be offended. A human being has now been allowed to live, or a mind changed, that can in turn positively influence others.

Apologetics (my field) is very similar. Folks are offended by us all the time because we take stands and say that x is true and right, and y is false and bad. I am regularly insulted: have been for 20 years online. But I (solely by the power of God’s grace) convince some people to become Catholics. That’s what it’s all about. I am an advocate of the Catholic Church and want to see people come into it.

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See much more material on the topic of pro-life on my Life Issues web page.

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Photo credit: Elvert Barnes: ABORTION NO GRAPHIC DISPLAY at Upper Senate Park on Constitution Avenue near New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon, 22 January 2014 by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography, en route to 40th MARCH FOR LIFE. [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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