Use Of Abortion Victim Images
To most Americans, women in crisis pregnancy are real but their unborn babies are invisible and unreal. The hardship of a mother’s crisis pregnancy often evokes more sympathy than her baby’s death by abortion because abortion is rationalized as the lesser of two evils and seen as far less horrifying than the terror of crisis pregnancy.
But as people stumble upon pictures of abortion they begin to see abortion as more than evil. They begin to see it as ultimate evil. “Reproductive choice” sounds socially moderate, until you are forced to look at it. And that is why pro-lifers must never hide the evidence that abortion is an act of violence against a helpless baby.
No injustice was ever ended by covering it up. The testimony of women who were planning to abort and changed their minds after seeing abortion victim photos, and the testimony of those who say they would not have gone through with their abortions had they been shown the truth is overwhelming. So to willfully hide the truth about abortion is to continue to give Planned Parenthood the cover of darkness, and to surrender the lives of children who would have otherwise been saved from it. It is a sad fact that oppressors always try to suppress the pictures and good people (often Christians) are frequently duped into helping them sweep the evidence under the carpet.
The history of successful social reform — from the abolition of slavery to the Vietnam War — is replete with evidence that public exposure to victim imagery is a prerequisite to changing social behavior.
Pro-lifers are known for printing slogans like, “It’s a child not a choice” and “Abortion kills children”. But until we are willing to prove such statements to the skeptic listener, we should have no illusions about winning this debate. When abortion is hidden, abortion is tolerated. When it is seen, everything changes.
As Father Frank Pavone said, “It is not enough simply to know that the trends are wrong. One must be profoundly disturbed so as to be stirred to action… One must be made angry enough to be willing to sacrifice to end injustice — and in this sense, the very reason some say pictures don’t work because they make people mad are really hitting upon the… reason why they do work.”
The Role of Imagery Throughout Social Reform History
The public witness of disturbing images is a necessary component for effecting social reform. Historically, effective social reformers have always relied on visual depictions for they are the most accurate and compelling method of communicating injustice.
Thomas Clarkson, a leader in the campaign against slave-trade in England spent “two years riding around England, promoting the cause and gathering evidence. This included his interviewing 20,000 sailors, and obtaining equipment used on the slave-ships (such as iron handcuffs, leg-shackles, thumb screws, instruments for forcing open slave’s jaws and branding irons) for use in publications and public meetings.” He displayed chains and shackles to the public to show how the slaves were mistreated.
“Clarkson noticed how pictures and artifacts were able to influence public opinion, more than words alone. He quickly realised that his collection of fine goods could reinforce the message of his anti-slavery lectures. He used the items to demonstrate the skill of Africans and possibilities for an alternative humane trading system. The “box” of his collection became an important part his public meetings, and was an early example of a visual aid.”
Arguably the most famous anti-slavery image in history, “The Scourged Black” is a photo of a slave named Gordon who had escaped his master in Mississippi. On April 16, 1863, S. K. Towle, surgeon, 30th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, sent a photograph of Gordon’s back with a letter to W. J. Dale, surgeon general of the state of Massachusetts. Towle wrote: “Few sensation writers ever depicted worse punishment than this man must have received, though nothing in his appearance indicates any unusual viciousness — but on the contrary he seems INTELLIGENT AND WELL BEHAVED.” The image was published in Harper’s Weekly and subsequently reproduced and widely distributed by abolitionists.
Civil Rights Movement & Emmett Till
“Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Below is a photo taken of Emmett Till by his mother on Christmas Day, 1954. 8 months later, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, for the crime of flirting with a white woman, Till was brutally tortured and murdered. A boy of just 14 years old, Emmett Till was taken away to a barn where Roy Bryand and J. W. Milam beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. Three days later, Till’s body was discovered and retrieved from the river. His face was so disfigured, it was unrecognizable when paired next to that image taken just 8 months earlier.
The boy’s mother, Mamie Bradley, insisted that his body be shipped back home to Chicago, where it was displayed in an open coffin for four days (a Mississippi sheriff had ordered the coffin sealed to conceal the brutality of the boy’s murder). At least a hundred thousand members of the black community stood in line for hours to view the body. The leading black periodicals, including Jet and the Chicago Defender, juxtaposed earlier photographs of the bright-eyed youngster in shirt and tie with the horrific picture of his bashed and bloated face. The story of the huge outpouring of sympathy, and the brutal murder of Emmett, was picked up by the white press as well. His mutilated body would inspire Civil Rights Activists across the country.
Pictures and stories about Emmett Till’s murder transformed many who would fight in the Civil Rights Movement over the next decade, including Rosa Parks who said, “I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to move to the back, I just couldn’t move.”
Other pictures emerged from the South which sparked outrage in the the rest of the nation, and eventually transformed our laws and our culture.
Life magazine, September 20, 1943, explained the editors’ motive in publishing a disturbingly graphic picture of three American GIs who had been gunned down on a beach in New Guinea:
“The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. The words are never right.”
Two decades later, journalists in Southeast Asia were capturing more disturbing images of war which the press routinely printed for Americans to see back home. Most in the main stream media were themselves opposed to the Vietnam War, and they understood the influence these photos would have on the consciences of American citizens. The reason for the media’s complete blackout of abortion pictures is simple, really: most in the media favor abortion.
The disconcerting and unforgettable picture of a South Vietnamese General executing a man in the streets of Saigon left a deep impression on the minds of civilized Americans, won photographer Eddie Adams the Pulitzer Prize, and helped bring an end to American involvement in that war.
In 2010, Time Magazine published an image on its front cover that editor Richard Stengel described as “powerful, shocking and disturbing.” Stengel acknowledged that the front cover would be seen by children who would “undoubtedly find it distressing.” Yet he made the decision to print the shocking image anyway, because he felt an obligation to confront and explain that “bad things do happen to people.” He continued in his editorial:
“In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.”
Abortion: The Injustice of Our Age
Today there is no debate about the use of graphic imagery to convey injustices from the past; it is a “no-brainer.” People pore through history textbooks that contain graphic images; they flock to museums that show images of yesterday’s injustices; they line up to watch movies that convey the mistreatment of peoples by previous generations.
Why, then, is there a debate today about the use of abortion imagery? For the simple reason that such imagery shows a present atrocity not a past one. The guilt of historical crimes lies with our ancestors, not us. The guilt of present-day crimes lies with no one but ourselves. It is easy to say, “Shame on them.” It is difficult to admit, “Shame on us.”
Many people ask us, “Why do you hold up these horrible pictures in public?” Our answer to them is, “We do it for the same reason we would have held up pictures of Auschwitz and Dachau in the streets of Germany. Injustice must be exposed or it will never be ended.” We would applaud anyone bold enough to expose the atrocities against the Jewish people, and yet we are conflicted about exposing the atrocity inflicted on the unborn.
They are not so different.
If we would applaud anyone bold enough to expose the atrocities against the Jewish people, then we should support anyone who exposes the atrocity of abortion inflicted on the unborn.
Pro-Life Leaders Who Support Exposing Abortion
The vast majority of prominent pro-life leaders endorse the use of abortion victim photos, and see it as a key to ending the injustice. Here are a few examples, in their own words.
Fr. Frank Pavone
Founder & National Director
Priests for Life
“Having worked in pro-life activities on every level from the parish to the Vatican, where I served on the Pontifical Council for the Family, I can attest that the vast majority of pro-life leaders and activists understand that using graphic visuals is an essential component of winning the victory over this evil.”
“When a culture is reluctant to learn that abortion is an act of violence which kills a baby, and when so many of those who need to hear the message are complicit in the injustice, people choose to turn away from listening to pro-life talks, attending pro-life events, or reading pro-life brochures. If our educational activity relies primarily on the voluntary consent of the audience we are trying to reach, we will not reach the audience we need to reach.”
“There is no activity in the pro-life movement more important and effective than to stand on the streets of America and expose the graphic reality of abortion. Many activities communicate to people the conclusion that abortion kills children. What you have done during this tour [Face the Truth, Pro-Life Action League], however, conveys to people the facts that compel that conclusion.”
“…there is no statistical evidence to support the assertion that graphic imagery turns people away from the pro-life cause. The experience of those who use these images corresponds with the lessons that we learn from other social reform movements: only when enough people see the injustice is there enough momentum created in the nation to eliminate it.”
“Anyone willing to defend abortion ought to be willing to see one, and those who fight abortion ought to be willing to expose it. Only then will enough people feel the appropriate sense of outrage needed to make the sacrifices necessary to end this injustice.”
Founder & National Director
Pro-Life Action League
“Photos of these aborted children rip off the mask of ‘choice.’ The truth hurts, but the lie hurts so much more. Once people have faced the truth, they are less likely to become involved in abortion.”
Founder & National Director
Center for Bio-Ethical Reform
“Horrifying pictures always offend but historically, they are the key to social reform.”
“If it’s wrong to SHOW what goes on in an abortion clinic, why isn’t it wrong to DO what goes on in an abortion clinic?”
“We are losing this fight because too few Americans are upset about abortion and they aren’t upset because too many of us are afraid to upset them.”
“God commands us to expose the deeds of darkness in Ephesians 5:11 and there is no deed darker than abortion. When Christians help Planned Parenthood hide the horror of abortion, savable babies are butchered and public opinion will never support outlawing abortion.”
Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform
“The silent screams of aborted children cannot be heard but their broken bodies can be seen. And we will show these broken bodies across the country, day after day, year after year, until we end the killing. And we will end it in our lifetime!”
“A genocide that isn’t publicly exposed to the culture will easily be denied. A word-based message that doesn’t resonate the way a visual-based message does will more easily be ignored.”
Founder & President
“With abortion, we are making a social reform movement with the abortion issue to show the world what is happening to these little children. To put a face to the hidden victim of that unborn child. Ever since 1973 and even before, pro-abortion forces have been trying to the unborn child — the victim of abortion. They have hid the ultrasound from women, they have hid them in the closed sterile clinic doors inside abortion clinics. They have claimed the unborn child is a fetus, is an embryo, without the right to life. It’s just a clump of cells. It’s just a blob of tissue. But projects like the Genocide Awareness Project, projects like HeresTheBlood.com, projects that show the victim of abortion, make the public see that this is a tiny human being who is being violently and unjustly destroyed across our country, legally each day. And it’s a human being that we must rise up and defend so we can put an end to abortion.”
Arizona Right to Life
“The history of social reform movements/societal injustices compels us to use victim photography when the public is ignorant of or involved with the atrocity [of abortion].”
“The image is the closest approximation to the actual injustice and because humans thrive on giving rationalization to avoid the consequences of our actions, we need to use the images to dissolve the rationalization.”
Dr. Monica Miller
Associate Professor of Theology at Madonna University
Citizens for a Pro-Life Society
“The abortion photo is the definitive way that unwanted, discarded unborn children can prove that they lived, that their lives matter, that their all-too-brief existences can impact this world and change it for the better. The photos of abortion victims are the only tangible guarantee they have that their lives, and even their murders, were not in vain. Through their photos the world is stimulated to contemplate the injustice suffered by the aborted unborn — and be aroused to do something about it!”
“The sight makes us tremble and weep, and the shock solidifies within us a great, absolute ‘No’ as we refuse to be part of this terrible darkness. Our being is filled with a resolve to stand against it. Nothing in this glimpse of Hell can be right, and the evil of it all is incarnated in broken bodies that cry to you for justice. Once you see the bodies with the right mind, you can never go back. They have taken you into their world.”
“Those who live in a culture of death desperately need to be awakened to the terrible fate of the aborted unborn. The mask of normalcy that cloaks the injustice of abortion — an injustice that is all around us, yet remains largely concealed — needs to be ripped away. In a society that promotes abortion, or remains generally apathetic to its reality, the victims of our American slaughter have a right to be seen, and the truth of their tragedy, written into their flesh, revealed.”
Dr. Alveda King
Niece of MLK
Director of African-American Outreach
Priests for Life
“But equality is not something you can see. What you can see are people. My uncle knew that the ugly reality of segregation had to be seen visually by the American public. He therefore organized events at which the eyes of the media could broadcast the way our people were treated when water hoses and dogs were unleashed on their peaceful marches. People responded to those images, not simply to abstract concepts of ‘segregation’ and ‘equality.'”
“Likewise, people – and especially African Americans – respond to the disturbing images of aborted children. Sure, some people get angry when we show them. But everyone who fights injustice has to be ready to pay a price. My uncle did, and so did my Dad. So does everyone who has the courage to show the ugly reality of abortion. Don’t be afraid to do so. Many people are grateful. As a woman who has had two abortions, I am grateful that the truth is being shown, so that others can avoid this pain in the first place.”
Fr. Shenan Boquet
Human Life International
“Seeing the reality of abortion for the first time changes a person, especially considering that this form of murder is protected in law in so many places.”
Other Notable Supportive Pro-Life Leaders
- Eric Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League
- Jill Stanek, Pro-Life Blogger
- Jack Ames, Defend Life
- Josh Brahm, Pro-life Apologist
- Bryan Kemper, StandTrue & Priests for Life
- Rev. Dr. Childress, L.E.A.R.N. & BlackGenocide.org
- Scott Klusendorf, Pro-Life Apologist
- Troy Newman, Operation Rescue
- Mark Harrington, Created Equal
- Randy Alcorn, Pro-Life & Christian Author
Julie’s Story: GAP Changes Minds
“I’m gonna abolish abortion!
Baby Rylen was saved from abortion when his mother saw our videos on YouTube and our images in 2011 and courageously decided to go against the advice of her entire family who insisted she abort Rylen.
After Rylen was born, his mother Rachel was able to send us this update: “I hope you no you helped me alot! What u said to me meant alot. I was going threw the worst time. I had nobody. I had my son july 16 at 11:40 pm he was 8lba 15oz 22 inches long…His name is Rylen Ray. I love him sooooo much omg hes amazing. My 2 year old…loves him and is adjusting way better then i ever thought…. Going back to me posting underneath your youtube video in complete distress i needed help and fast and you helped. Thanks”
Here is a few examples of written testimony, courtesy of AbortionNO.org, which demonstrates the power of abortion images to change minds and save lives.
“I am 20. A student of Biola and always claimed to be prolife. I thought that until I got a positive pregnancy test. This came after a night of partying just outside the campus and had a one night stand with a youth pastor in training. I was going to go to planned parenthood that day and as I walked through campus her [Diana Jimenez’ graphic abortion] signs made me realize there is a human life in my womb …. In that moment I went to my dorm room got on my knees and asked that I would have the strength to be my babies mom…God came through for me because of her.”
20-year-old female / Biola University / June 13, 2013
“It has disturbed me a great deal and made me question my stand on the issue.”
18-year-old female / Rhode Island / Nov 28, 2011
“This web site, and the anti abortion protesters outside of a burlington vt planned parent hood really opened my eyes!!!! a few months ago i had gone to a clinic on the way in i was met at the door by these protesters and they gave me a card…this card i will never forget. i still have it and always will!!! because of them being there that day i DIDNT go threw with the abortion, and im so very glad everyday that i didnt. these ppl saved my baby and i just want everyone to know keep up the fight!! when ppl have the reality of what they are doing shoved in there faces im sure alot more ppl will chance there minds!! just wanted to say thank you! today i am 6 months prego and very excited about this baby :)”
26-year-old female / Bradford, VT / Jul 31, 2012
“I would never have an abortion after seeing this website because i feel so bad for what these innocent babies go threw.. I feel if ur old enough to have sex then ur old enough to have a baby”
21-year-old female / Colby, WI / Jul 13, 2011
“This has influenced me, because I used to be pro-choice. I had a abortion 6 years and I never was sad about it until today. I regret what I did and pray to God to forgive me all the time. I will never do it again. I’m thankful God has given me another chance with a beautiful daughter and I’m pregnant again.”
28-year-old female / Greeville, MS / Apr 15, 2011
“I have chagned from Pro-choice to Pro-life.”
18-year-old female / Boston, MA / Nov 19, 2011