Defending the Use of Abortion Victim Photography

It’s not just abortion advocates who are critical of pro-lifers who use graphic abortion imagery. Sometimes pro-lifers criticize their own for using this approach. These concerns can be varied:

  • Won’t this hurt post-abortive women?
  • It’s not appropriate for children to see these images.
  • Don’t the images disrespect the babies aborted?
  • If people get angry and are turned off, won’t it be more difficult to win converts?

For each of these concerns, the fundamental question to debate is not, Do graphic images shock some people? They do. The fundamental questions to debate are, Do graphic images save lives? And if they do, is saving those lives worth some people being offended?

Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Indeed, as the history of social reform shows, liked reformers are rarely effective, and effective reformers—when they lived—are rarely liked. But if they managed to achieve change, isn’t it possible for pro-lifers who rock the boat to also achieve change?

There is no doubt that it is painful for post-abortive women to see abortion imagery, but the imagery is merely a trigger to the trauma of abortion. And post-abortive women say they face many kinds of triggers that remind them of their abortions: seeing an infant or pregnant woman, or hearing a sound similar to the suction machine, or being reminded of the anniversary of their abortions. Everyone of course recognizes that it makes no sense to eliminate these reminders because it is abortion that causes the trauma, not the triggers.


Moreover, to help a woman find healing, we can’t eliminate the triggers, but instead must help her work through the source of her pain—the abortion—so that she learns to handle reminders in a healthy fashion. In fact, triggers can move her to a place of getting help, rather than staying in denial.

Furthermore, it is important to reach post-abortive women with pro-life messaging in order to prevent them from repeating their mistake: in Alberta, 40% of abortions are repeat abortions.1 In the United States, 50% are.2

As for children, when one has to choose between the feelings of born children and the lives of pre-born children, lives trump feelings. And while children aren’t targets for graphic messaging, if they see them, they can be convicted to stop injustice. Consider Hannah Taylor:

When she was 5, she saw a very disturbing image: a homeless man rooting through a garbage can. So troubled by what she saw, Hannah was inspired to become an advocate for the less fortunate. Three years later, at the age of 8, she formed a charity to help the homeless.

Finally, abortion images don’t disrespect the babies—their victimization does. Consider that media show footage of bombed civilians in war-torn countries; campaigns against starvation show images of malnourished children with distended stomachs living in deplorable conditions; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., displays pictures of the bodies of Jews killed during World War II. These obviously do not disrespect the dead. They are shown to educate others about those injustices so that societies are discouraged from perpetuating such atrocities.

When there are human rights violations taking place, the greatest respect one can show for the dead is to prevent future deaths like theirs. Real disrespect is when we cover the truth and enable injustice to continue.

Previous: Abortion Victim Photography

  1. On March 15, 2007, Alberta Pro-Life sent out a news report with this: “Alberta Health and Wellness replied this week to a Freedom of Information request from Alberta Pro-Life on the repeat rate for abortions in Alberta. According to the department, of the 10,836 abortions recorded in 2004, 4,291, 39.5%, were repeats. (The totals vary from the Alberta Reproductive Health report issued earlier this year but the discrepancy may be due to women from outside the province who come to Alberta for abortions.)”
  2. Susan A. Cohen, “Repeat Abortion, Repeat Unintended Pregnancy, Repeated and Misguided Government Policies,” Guttmacher Policy Review, Spring 2007, Volume 10, Number 2. Viewed online at on August 2, 2010.