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Graphic images of abortion are profoundly counterproductive and damage the pro-life cause

Displaying these images outside an abortuary may change the minds of some women, but they will alienate the general public

By on Monday, 8 October 2012

Pro-lifers march in Madrid (Photo: CNS)

Pro-lifers march in Madrid (Photo: CNS)

A new US-supported pro-life organisation currently maintains a protest outside a Brighton abortuary, where it displays graphic abortion images. The purpose of this is ostensibly to show the women going for abortions the reality of what they are about to allow to be done to them and to their child, and thereby dissuade them from going through with it. I do not doubt the good motivations of this campaign, and do not believe the intention behind it is to bully or intimidate women. Indeed, I have defended their right to protest, against accusations of illegal “harassment”. I think it is also important, however, to give clear and total opposition to such tactics on the grounds that their effects are profoundly counterproductive, not merely to the express aims of such protests, but to the health of the pro-life lobby in Britain.

While there are some women who may be convinced into not having an abortion at the sight of such images, there are other women for whom such images will only offend, harden their hearts, and resolve them to go ahead, undermining any thoughts they may have had of keeping their baby. More widely, the impact such images have on the general public can also be toxic. Many people resent not only being shown nasty pictures unsolicited as they walk down the street, but having their children exposed to gory photography.

This natural disgust and resentment is then exploited gleefully by the abortion lobby, who proceed to caricature pro-lifers as cruel and unfeeling bullies who wish to browbeat and shame vulnerable women. Such mud sticks, and not just to some protestors but to us all, hampering serious attempts to change the culture and the law by mainstream pro-life groups. None of this is fair, but it is reality.

This is not to say that visual presentations of abortion or its consequences are never appropriate or effective. I was myself converted from being radically pro-abortion to pro-life while at secondary school, within 10 minutes of being shown an image of an aborted foetus. Even in that setting, though, the employment of such pictures can have mixed effects. One colleague of mine who has years of experience in both abortion counselling and in pro-life school presentations, has recounted to me how showing graphic images in schools can often provoke anger and defensiveness (including for fellow pupils who have had abortions) rather than sympathy for the unborn.

The diversity of effects these pictures engender is due to the diversity of human beings, their psychologies, and their perspectives. Organisations like the Vitae Foundation make the point that women in a crisis pregnancy situation have a host of “right-brained” emotional factors that feed into their decision-making, and thus arguments and images that might convince someone coming from a more detached and abstract “left-brained” perspective (such as my teenage pro-abortion self) will either have no effect, or push them in the opposite direction. The foundation’s research on the efficacy of graphic portrayals bears this out.

Other issues, such as the ethics of such images (the instrumentalised abuse and manipulated portrayal of dead human bodies), could also be raised in objection to these campaigns. A crucial point however, is that while pro-life protestors need to reach out to all kinds of people, and tell the whole truth about abortion, they have to realise that the efficacy of certain tactics will be hugely context-specific. In a voluntary and considered academic setting, graphic images may very well be helpful. Presenting them outside an abortuary, however, or indeed any public space, will largely lead to the alienation of women who might otherwise have been open to persuasion by a gentler approach, as well as the general public, without whom a lasting cultural and political change towards the ultimate end of abortion will never occur.

  • paulpriest

    More especially – How can you do that in the 20-30 seconds before they enter the abortuary?

  • paulpriest

    You should read their ‘book’

    Oh it’s a reasonably adequate source of
    some data, statistics and quotes on certain issues; but it’s basically a
    hodge-podge of weak-minded, ill-constructed, trite, watered-down,
    contradiction-laden, cut-and-paste, ignorantly opinionated dross!

    It’s laden with inadvertent [and laughable] ironies [e.g. mentioning Cafod
    while discussing Catholic teaching on homosexuality and contraception]

    -it is devoid of basic ethical and moral theological understanding in
    principle and terminology [e.g. it declares human beings are not ends [I think they mean to say people should never be treated as means to an end] ;
    it doesn’t understand the differences between natural moral
    disorder, moral disorder and intrinsic moral disorder [ e.g. it states
    NFP is ok and fails to mention that it is only acceptable through the
    double effect]
    it adds erroneous conditionals [e.g. the Church sees
    marriage as solely between a man and a woman - for the best interests of
    There’s inclusion of ++Hume’s dodgy homosexual comments
    [e.g. homosexuality is only morally disordered because it's an
    inclination towards the genital acts - NOT the plain and simple tragic
    fact that a poor homosexual cannot ever fulfil their love physicaly and
    spritually with another and have that love overflow into God's creative
    …but then again it talks for pages on marriage without ever
    considering the spiritual sacramental ontology of its very nature – the
    two becoming one flesh and forming a spiritual union where each partner
    belongs to the other!
    Maybe it’s too awkward to bring in such Doctrines?

    When dealing with contraception it inserts a tiny time-bomb in its
    exposition of Church teaching – contraceptive INTENTION is what’s wrong -
    not the very act itself! It perverts the entire teaching with a single

    When speaking of religious freedom it doesn’t mention Truth
    subsisting in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,
    When dealing with Anglicanism it doesn’t mention the invalidity of its orders,

    When dealing with euthanasia it is scandalously negligent in failing to
    mention the issue of PVS and the removal of nutrition and hydration – in
    fact when it comes to Euthanasia it doesn’t engage in any argument
    whatsoever except the general precept of life [e.g. it doesn't seem to
    be aware of the 'Rachels' arguments] When dealing with hiv/AIDS it
    simply bombards us with unnecessary statistics rather than the crucial
    factors in the arguments[e.g. Cochrane on condoms and seroconversion in
    hiv serodiscordant couples [2007], the actual hiv epidemiology – two
    vital pieces of information – are simply absent] and although Dr
    Ivereigh doesn’t continue in the promotion of his oft-repeated argument
    for hiv serodiscordant couples to engage in condomistic sex – but nor is
    it outrightly condemned as gravely sinful – an African synod is quoted
    as leaving it to one’s conscience.

    When discussing the clerical abuse issues it commits a grievous slur upon His Holiness by quoting John Allen’s opinion that the Pope was an ignorant negligent cardinal ‘in denial’[!!!!!???] before 2001, the authors simply don’t understand the crucial differences between suspension and laicisation [and the canonical ramifications] ; they’re oblivious to the direct orders of Crimen Sollicitationis [1962] commanding the reporting of abuse within 14 days under the pain of excommunication and aren’t exactly au fait with the intricacies of de delictis gravioribus.[2001] One shameful
    mistake being the serious error in dating the letter of cardinal
    Ratzinger to Cardinal Jose Lara [where he professes his frustration over
    the laicisation process] as 1998 when it was actually sent on Feb 19

    …and I could continue!

  • teigitur

    Thats one “book” I think I shall give a miss!

  • paulpriest

    Peter has made his position clear:
    He’s stated that aborted foetal photos are either ineffective or they directly lead to more abortions by strengthening the determination to abort.
    Then he appeals to the detrimental backlash for the Pro-Life movement.

    The first claim is unsubstantiated: The second irrelevant.

    It’s not abuse to seriously question the credentials of a prominent Catholic media commentator and executive officer of a Pro-Life group  nor to determine the validity and credibility of his positions given he is someone who has also stated:

    a]That there is NOTHING wrong with the Liverpool Care Pathway – and anyone who suggests that it is backdoor euthanasia or contrary to Catholic teaching is guilty of unconscionable reckless scandal-mongering and deception which will directly lead to euthanasia legislation.

    b]That Colin Harte’s Solidaritist position against Incrementalist co-operation, compromise and exception within restrictive legislation – is  naiive, ridiculous, stupid, misguided, untenable, unconscionable and just plain wrong – and no authentic, informed Pro-Life activist supports it

    c] That my grave concerns over Connexions being granted access to Catholic Schools by the CES – with their underage [same] sex advice, contraception & abortifacient provision and abortion referrals was swathingly, scathingly dismissed. 
     [the usual references to James Preece and myself are  https://twitter.com/PeterDCXW/status/139488313622020097  or  https://twitter.com/PeterDCXW/status/139489988143362049

    d] That even though he wrote a CTS pamphlet on same-sex marriage http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_EX43.html
    and even lectured us on how to argue against same-sex marriage on here!

    Does Peter follow direct Magisterial teaching that we have a duty to oppose Civil Partnerships?
    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfhomol.htm & http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

    Well? No!!
    He appeals to the ‘Prudential judgment’ opt-out after CVs said http://www.catholicvoices.org.uk/monitor-blog/2011/12/archbishop-nicholss-position-civil-partnerships-consistent-church-teaching

    Peter D. Williams

    @Blondpidge Absolutely! Your post (which @OTSOTA needs to read) is superb: http://t.co/3W7cIQbi *Neither +Nichols nor we contradict CDF*.

    What did he say regarding SPUC opposing same-sex marriage?

    Peter D. Williams

    Utterly *stupid* decision by @SPUCProLife to oppose #SSM: http://t.co/0ChDYB8I Not their purview. Alienates potential Pro-Life supporters.

    …and when it comes to the crunch and debating the Same-sex marriage issue?
    Did Peter argue that the proposed same-sex marriage legislation was actually an abolition of marriage and the downgrading of marriage to civil partnerships?
    That the legal consummating ‘sexual aspect’ of marriage is to be excised from the statute book [as same-sex couples cannot consummate a marriage] ?

    No we got a categorical “this is NOT about sex” followed by a highly-dodgy potted anthropological history denying marriage has anything to do with Unifying Love but a natural selection defence of offspring
    and then a utilitarian plea to ‘think of the consequences for religious freedom’ but with an overriding ‘think of the children: think of society’

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVKadiN0elU from 11.30

    Someone REALLY should tell Peter that Catholicism deals with right & wrong – not what is beneficial or detrimental according to some utilitarian hedonistic calculus.

    e] Now to be fair – Peter has constantly reiterated the obvious link between abortion and the contraceptive mentality – and the proven link between contraception promotion leading to indiscriminate sexual activity which consequently increases the amount of abortions – as have his fellow Catholic Voice colleagues and Pro-Lifers Robert Colquhoun [40DFL] & Ed Rennie [Commons all-party Pro-Life committee]…

    Yet their reputations and credibility seem somewhat compromised/jeopardised by being involved with Catholic Voices – its co-ordinators being somewhat less condemning of contraception

    Peter has repeatedly stated that although he does not agree with condoms being used by
    hiv-serodiscordant couples; he has swallowed the Rhonheimer/Ivereigh revisionism that ” Rome has not spoken on the issue therefore
    it is a matter of informed conscience and prudential judgment.” [not true - such action automatically contravenes the 5th commandment - Rome has no need to state the bleeding obvious]

    …and in deference to their Pro-Life stauses – how can these three accommodate the words of CV co-ordinators:

    “Urging a promiscuous infected person to at least use a condom … is Catholic pastoral practice” (Dr Ivereigh)
    “Using a condom might be the right and responsible thing to do in order to prevent infection” (Dr Ivereigh)
    “It is right for schools to teach how condoms help to reduce transmission of STDs.” (Dr Ivereigh)
    Church has never said that in a particular case it’s wrong to use a
    condom to protect somebody … The condom itself may be a good thing”
    (Mr Valero)
    “If in a particular case [church workers in Africa] think that a condom will protect then that may be OK” (Mr Valero).

    Only last week on here I criticised Our Church hierarchy for their abysmal Pro-Life record.

    Shouldn’t our Pro-Life activists be scrutinised similarly to determine if their positions are authentically Catholic or even remotely sound?

  • gentlemind

    What paulpriest said, in not so many words :)
    The truth does not wobble around according to context. The truth is the truth in all contexts. That is what makes the truth the truth!

  • Jonathan West

    Unless you are going to institute a Catholic dictatorship in this country, then the opinion of the general public does matter, whether or not you think it is an intellectual or moral beast. Abortion will only be stopped if you manage to change public opinion.

    In my view, that’s unlikely, but it’s perfectly right for you to debate how you put the case as effectively as possible.

    In that debate however, I would suggest that you gain a more realistic understanding of the arguments against you, since only by knowing what those arguments are can you form your own argument that effectively counters them. From your comment above it is clear that you aren’t even close to understanding the serious arguments in favour of abortion, and therefore you are going to be arguing against a position most people don’t hold, and your arguments will have no effect whatsoever.

  • Kevin

    Abortion will be stopped when powerful people stop committing evil against the helpless innocent.

    It is their responsibility, and they should not be flattered for rejecting it.

  • Kevin

    The Daily Mail today has an article about a street demonstration in Australia involving the carrying of dead animals. This is the (current) top rated comment under the online posting:

    Anything that draws attention to the cruelty, torture and horrific treatment that animals receive at the hands of humans is worthy in my book. We humans are brilliant at ignoring what we don’t want to see.

  • Jonathan West

    If you’re going to persuade them to stop, then you have to persuade them that what they are doing is evil. 

    That means that you will need to counter the arguments that they are doing good. 

    In turn that means you have to properly understand what those arguments are.

  • Brian

    Nonsense. If images of murdered unborn children are counter-productive, then, so too were images of the Jews in concentration camps.

  • scary goat


    Not exactly the subject under discussion here, but related.

  • Matthew Roth

    I feel that showing the violence of abortion along with the happy images of babies (50-50 split, maybe) will be extremely effective though I certainly see the reaction coming from the hard-core abortionists. They’ll just go nutty, and that’s when you pull out Fr Euteneurer’s book on abortion and Satan.

    I wonder though, if a satirical film-along the lines of The Great Dictator or Life is Beautiful-is possible on abortion. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4OVXFAUJYB6GBM5H3EXKVLNYPA ἀγάπη

    I wholeheartedly agree with this.  Graphic images are completely contradictory to the intention for creating peace in the womb.

    If one wants someone to see the truth, one must speak their language. The more you use offensive material they never consented to seeing, the more you create a blindfold of disgust.

    The reason we have “abortion on demand” is because many people see pro-lifers as being against women (although the contrary is true.)

    The statement made that… “[the subjected public's] natural disgust and resentment is then exploited gleefully by the
    abortion lobby, who proceed to caricature pro-lifers as cruel and
    unfeeling bullies who wish to browbeat and shame vulnerable women ”  is exactly what’s happening.

    Pro-abortion figures are using this image to ruin all chances of rights for the unborn by creating an emotion-fueled mob of angry women. (Hence the false title of “the war on women.”) 

    The only way to alleviate this view is to show them the peace that is truly intended & only show graphic images to those who consent. Many people are opposed to the violence of video games, movies etc, which is why there must be explicit consent to share these.  Pro-lifers must respect a person’s ability to consent ….or guess what?  We are taking away a person’s right. Which I’m sure we all realize is 100% counterproductive to seeking human rights for the unborn.

    Really if we ignore the rights of those who have an opposing viewpoint, we are as un-empathetic as they accuse us of being.

  • McKenzie

    Most of america has seen abortion! Some of us experienced it personally for reasons of they had to or else their life would be taken. How does forcing people to watch disgusting things like that help? It doesn’t. All it does is make people angry and makes them not want anything to do with pro-life activists. If anything it makes more people die. I know of someone who tried to take her own life after seeing those graphic images on a street she had to take to work every day. She had an abortion last year because she was raped, the babies life was in danger and so was hers because of the rapist. She saw those pictures and broke down. THIS IS NOT OKAY! No one wants to see these images! It does not help or bring awareness to people. WE ALREADY KNOW! You just make us angry! I have seen these images. Too many times have I seen them where kids walk home from school. Kids as in younger than 10. If you had an 8 year old daughter, she knew what abortion was and knew it was wrong already, has never seen an image as such that you see on signs and websites, walks past one of these areas on her way home from the bus stop, how do you think she would feel? She would be scared, confused, and more than likely scarred for a long time, she would then run home crying, and you would say, “oh honey, you needed to see it! It is good for you! Now you will never have an abortion.” The only thing that is going to make her do is have depression issues, and probably never have a good social life or friends because she will be to scared! Shit like this can cause mental issues! The warning signs are never more than 5 feet ahead at least in my area. No where near enough time to turn around or make your kid cover their eyes. This needs to stop. I don’t care if you put up anti-abortion signs, as long as they aren’t disturbingly graphic. NO ONE SHOULD EVER BE FORCED TO SEE THAT! Open your eyes and protect the children.