Are Graphic Abortion Images Like Pornography?

Written by Jonathon Van Maren on Sunday, 27 November 2011.

It has come to the attention of a number of my colleagues and I that there are not only a number of people outside the pro-life camp but also some who consider themselves part of it who feel that graphic abortion imagery is wrong because it is comparable to pornography. I was at first tempted to ignore the comparison because I felt it ludicrous and unfounded. Obviously, abortion imagery depicts an injustice while with pornography, the images themselves are the injustice—abortion imagery exposes a travesty, while pornographic images are a travesty. However, since the accusation is persisting, it warrants a careful analysis and response.

In considering this comparison, it is important to note how pornography is defined. According to one online dictionary, “pornography or porn is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.” I think it is clear to all that abortion imagery—evidence of the violence abortion does to the pre-born child—is not in any way comparable to pornography, which consists of images of an explicitly sexual nature. Abortion imagery is not used for even remotely sexual purposes, but rather to decry the inhumanity of this barbaric procedure and to point out what the results of recreational sex—so glorified by pornography—can bring about. Pornography is part of the culture of promiscuity that has contributed to abortion so greatly.

In this instance graphic abortion imagery, which displays the tiny victims of abortion, is analogous to Holocaust imagery, which show older victims of systematic violence. However, I am sure that we can agree that pictures of the Holocaust are not analogous to pornography—and that this would be an offensive claim to make—just as attending the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC would not be analogous to visiting a Playboy Club or pornography store. When thoughtfully considered, the pornography comparison reveals itself to be an extremely offensive comparison to make—both to the victims and those who stand to reveal their fate.

After searching through past critiques of graphic abortion imagery, I found that abortion advocates have often used this accusation, and that there have been detailed responses given. So as not to reinvent the wheel, I would like to share one succinct rebuttal to this notion:

John Jansen of the Pro-Life Action League:

“The difference between graphic abortion pictures and pornography can be seen in their respective reasons for existence.

“The clear and obvious purpose of pornography is to elicit sexual arousal in the viewer. In so doing, pornographic images distort the reality about the human body, and about God’s plan for human sexuality.

“Pornography takes the truth and twists it into a lie — namely, that sex is primarily about individual gratification — and as a result, its psychological, emotional, and moral damage is devastating.

“Graphic abortion pictures, however, have precisely the opposite effect. Showing images of aborted babies presents the truth of what abortion really is, and the reason for displaying them is to elicit sympathy for unborn children and awaken consciences about the gravely evil nature of abortion.”

Because the charge that graphic abortion imagery is comparable to pornography is a serious one—the implication being that showing graphic images is immoral—we have decided to respond on this website, as we plan to discuss pro-life issues from a religious and moral perspective as opposed to a pragmatic, strategy oriented perspective. We believe that this charge is completely baseless to the point of being offensive, as the implications of the accusation is that all photographic evidence of murder victims, including injustices of the past regularly shown in our classrooms, can be characterized as “pornographic.” To compare documentation of the fate of so many of our pre-born neighbours to imagery designed to incur sexual arousal is one that has no intellectual foundation, and one that should be discarded due to lack of coherence and credibility.

Comments (9)

  • Ria van Giessen

    Ria van Giessen

    15 November 2012 at 07:49 |
    I’m from the same reformed circles you are all from, and have never heard the use of graphic images in support of the prolife cause being compared to pornography. Personally, I don’t see any connection between the two either.

    That said, I find the use of graphic images disgusting. I cringe when I see the photo’s and have to cover the screen of my computer when I come across them via my circle of friends on facebook. That may be your desired response because there is obviously nothing appealing about the photos, but I do believe discretion has to be exercised in choosing the time and place to present them. A farmer’s market, a high school, an airshow…really? It’s disturbing. Display your images at universities, abortion clinics, etc–places where people can expect to come across contentious ideas and is represented by a good target age group for the idea’s you are presenting (18+). It is not likely that children will be in the vicinity and happen to walk by and have those disturbing images seared into their brains. If you choose to do it in public where many children are present, give decent warnings that allow parents to choose for themselves whether or not to expose their children to these images. The movie industry has a rating system in place for a reason, it allows parents to decide what they will allow their child to be exposed to, be it violence, sexuality or crude language. Cannot the pro-life movement do the same for parents? I am all for the work you do and the time and effort you put into this movement, but the respect element is so essential. How can you demand respect if you are not willing to give that respect?
    • Jonathan

      Jonathan

      15 November 2012 at 07:52 |
      Our friends at Show the Truth in Ontario actually did a study to see if children were affected by images. These were their findings:

      We have been able to assess children’s responses according to age.

      Young children (approx. 5 and under) do not react to the photos but
      rather to their parents’ response.

      Slightly older children (approx. 6 to 9) generally recognize the truth
      of the pictures and, like the child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” are quick
      to speak the obvious truth and ask questions such as “What happened to the
      baby?” or “Who hurt the baby?” At this age, they are generally concerned
      about their own safety and the safety of other children. Most often all that
      is needed at this age is a simple reassurance from their parents that they
      are cherished and have been protected since conception.

      Pre-teens recognize the truth of the photos, but one of the main
      reactions at this stage is wanting to do something themselves to help
      babies. One 9 year old boy wondered why the police weren’t stopping from
      killing the babies. Another 11 year old boy said, “When I grow up, I’m going
      to be the Prime Minister so I can stop that!”

      We have come to the conclusion that at no age are children harmed by
      seeing the photos of aborted children. It is their parents’ reactions to the
      posters and answers to their questions that affect them. When parents become
      visibly agitated, yell, swear, make threats, or try to give them
      pro-abortion rhetoric, young children are naturally disturbed by the
      commotion and older children are confused and disturbed by the misdirected
      anger.

      Additionally, here is a source page dealing with graphic images as they relate to children: http://www.unmaskingchoice.ca/strategy/graphic

      Thanks for reading!
  • Michelle Klok

    Michelle Klok

    15 November 2012 at 07:50 |
    If you really think that graphic abortion images are not immoral, you must also think that we should be showing graphic images of murdered adults. Not just the censored ones we see in newspapers, but especially the really gruesome ones like beheaded, dismembered and disemboweled adults; to try to convince people that murder is wrong. And we shouldn’t just show these images but we should try to silence and belittle anyone who is in opposition to showing them especially to children, because these people may be pro feeling, but certainly not prolife right?
    • Jonathan

      Jonathan

      15 November 2012 at 07:51 |
      There is a fundamental difference between the necessity of showing graphic abortion pictures and showing graphic murder pictures (which were, I might add, shown quite often recently, most notably in the case of Ghaddafi’s death). The difference is that murdering adults is already illegal, and that the graphic photos of their demise only need to be shown in a courtroom setting to provide evidence and if possible convict their murderer. We don’t need to use graphic image to convince people that murder is wrong because it is already considered universally immoral.

      With abortion, on the other hand, there is no societal consensus that it is wrong. People feel that abortion is a “choice,” but do not realize that this choice dismembers a tiny human being. This is why so many react with shock to these images–what they felt were simply “clumps of cells,” “fetal tissue,” or “the products of conception” actually turn out to be a perfectly formed human being. Because the pre-born are so universally dehumanized by language such as this, and even worse in many cases, evidence must be provided to prove two essential points: That the pre-born are human (which is done using pre-natal imagery such as the “Life” signs used at “Choice” Chain), and that abortion is an inhuman and violent act that denies these human beings their right to life (done by using the abortion imagery of “Choice” Chain.) We cannot convey the gravity of abortion by showing only a pre-natal image, any more than we can convey the reality of Auschwitz by showing a picture by only showing a head shot of the smiling Anne Frank.

      That being said, we agree that in times of moral crisis where the humanity of adults is denied that pictures of these victims are absolutely moral to show. I think of slavery, where brutal pictures were used by the abolitionists to show what was being perpetrated against slaves. One prominent philosopher has recently stated that if the people of Nazi Germany had been exposed to pictures of what was going on in the concentration camps, perhaps Hitler would have been toppled earlier. Indeed, I was recently reading a book on the Nuremburg Trials, where the lawyers and judges prosecuting the Nazi leaders explained why visual imagery of the atrocities of the Holocaust was so important, stating that this was by far the most compelling evidence, and that both the world and the German people needed to see what was perpetrated and what was tolerated. It was for this reason that American generals such as Dwight D. Eisenhower had the German people march past the mass graves in the camps, so that they could see what had been perpetrated by the Nazi regime and indeed, by their passivity towards this genocide.

      History actually shows us that when killing and abusing certain adults (Jews, slaves, African Americans during Civil Rights) was a social norm, it was graphic images of their plight that helped to publicize the injustice and end their suffering. Graphic images are a powerful tool, admittedly, and should only be used when necessary. However, when three hundred tiny Canadians are slaughtered behind clinic doors every single day while their fate remains hidden from a public which tolerates this genocide, I think that the weight of history and the evidence provided us by social reform champions such as William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. is conclusive.

      This article was absolutely not meant to belittle anyone, and I apologize if that is how it came across. Everyone has their place in the pro-life movement, and not all are inclined to do ‘Choice” Chain. The pro-life movement needs pro-lifers in every profession, as well as crisis pregnancy centres, political lobbyists, donors, and of course, parents! We hope that together, we can end the killing in our lifetime.
  • Steve

    Steve

    15 November 2012 at 07:50 |
    Your conclusion is a good one. In this present day many need to see with eyes before they see with their hearts and minds.
  • Stacy

    Stacy

    15 November 2012 at 07:53 |
    I find myself agreeing with ria, while i find what you guys are doing very commendable, i also feel that the pics should not be shown in places where children are. I have walked by the signs with my five year old while being pregnant and he was very affected by it and had alot of trouble sleeping for quite awhile for fear of the child that i was carrying. The picture with the babies head removed and laying beside its body would not leave his mind for a long time. I do not wish that on anyone to have their child go through that.
    • Maaike

      Maaike

      15 November 2012 at 07:54 |
      Thanks for your comment! We certainly appreciate your concern about children seeing the images and can assure you that this is something we carefully weigh when choosing locations. I’m sad to hear about your little guy not being able to sleep, not in the first place because we chose that location, but because he lives in a society that allows such an injustice. Maybe I can pass on what other parents have told us: that it helped to let their (young) child know that their pre-born sibling is safe, that something like this will never happen to the baby because “we love you guys even when you’re really small and still in mommy’s tummy.” And a father shared with us that, “even if my son has a nightmare tonight, I still think it’s worth it because these pictures save lives.”

      If there were ways to bring the nature of abortion to the attention of our culture and thereby change minds and save lives, we would certainly utilize them, but reality is that there aren’t. When other methods are used, only those who WANT the truth see it, not those who NEED to see it. And so, when we have to decide between the feelings of born children or the lives of pre-born children, we must remember what is at stake. We do not wish it upon born children to be confronted with the awful reality of abortion, but more importantly we do not wish it upon pre-born children to be decapitated, dismembered and disemboweled.
  • Deisy

    Deisy

    15 November 2012 at 07:55 |
    I love this. Thank you so much for the reminder. All of the nriunng here and there, wiping noses, baths, meals and whatever else consumes our day, the reminder of what we need to focus their attention on needs to be front and center. Thanks again
  • Kristy Klaassen

    Kristy Klaassen

    15 November 2012 at 07:55 |
    “And a father shared with us that, “even if my son has a nightmare tonight, I still think it’s worth it because these pictures save lives.”
    Exactly. It’s too bad that the odd child will have a strong reaction like that to these images, however, those children will survive…unlike all the hundreds of babies headed to the abortion clinic today. I think that people who don’t see it that way, and are more concerned about what their children are going to think/feel aren’t grasping the severity of the situation.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.

Connect with us: