Are Graphic Abortion Images Like Pornography?

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.”

The Reformed Case for Pro-Life Action

We live in a culture where openly sinful behaviours are increasingly becoming the norm while opposing them is labelled “judgemental.” It is therefore good to consider whether or not those who hold to objective Christian principles are morally obligated to act out in defence of Christian beliefs. Of the many public sins that plague North America, abortion, the decapitation, dismemberment and disembowelment of unborn children throughout all nine months of pregnancy by the millions is undoubtedly the most horrific—and the most prevalent. (Example: At least 25 percent of unborn children are slaughtered every single year.)

The idea of public pro-life action, however, seems foreign and somehow “un-Reformed” to many. While it can safely be assumed that none of us would at least openly claim to be pro-abortion, many find themselves ill at ease with decisive action on behalf of the unborn. Here I do not refer to good pro-life events such as “Walks for Life” etc., but rather witnessing on behalf of the unborn children to the public at large—actions that will directly save the lives of children and will also involve contact with non-Christians. After examining the Bible and our Reformed heritage, however, it becomes very clear that speaking out to defend the Christian idea that all life is sacred is one that is not only encouraged, but demanded.

What does the Bible Say?

Reformed people are generally quite familiar with the Bible verses confirming the child in the womb as a human created in God’s image. (See Isaiah 46:3-5, Psalm 127:3-5, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 119: 73, Luke 1:41-42 etc.) In contrast, consider how God speaks in Scripture of the sin of child sacrifice, of which abortion is a clear form. While ancient people sacrificed their children to Molech, we sacrifice our children on the altar of our own lusts, ambitions, pleasure, or convenience. In Jeremiah 7:31, after decrying the wickedness of the people, the prophet writes: “And they have built the high places of Tophet…to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came into my heart.” The act of child sacrifice, whether in ancient or modern times, is so evil that it never even entered God’s mind that people could do this to their offspring. God further condemns this sin in many places in the Bible—see Deuteronomy 12:31, Ezekiel 16:20-43, Psalm 106:37-42 and Jeremiah 19:3-11.

The Bible clearly confirms the unborn child as a human being requiring protection, and condemns child sacrifice in the harshest terms. At the same time it demands that we intervene on the behalf of the helpless. Jesus commanded His followers to love their neighbour, which by the biblical definition of human life unquestionably includes unborn children. Consider also the Good Samaritan, who helped the wounded man regardless of the sacrifice and inconvenience towards himself, while the religious people of the day walked on by. The most explicit command God gives us to intervene on behalf of the helpless is found in Proverbs 24:11-12. There He states: “If thou forebear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? Doth he not know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

These texts from Scripture show us that abortion is not only evil, but also that sacrificing children to the idol of one’s own lust is considered to be an especially grave evil, and one which God is not willing to tolerate. It is impossible to deny that children are being brutally slaughtered in North America. It is equally true that we cannot pretend that we are ignorant of this fact. The Bible clearly states that we have a duty to protect our unborn neighbours—and that God will judge nations and peoples who “forbear” from this duty. The question is: are we willing to do so publicly?

What does our Reformed Heritage say?

Both John Calvin and Martin Luther, who were unquestionably the “radicals” of their day, spoke out against abortion specifically. Luther commented on the greatness of “the wickedness of human nature” that would cause people to “kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God.” John Calvin stated in his commentary on Exodus that “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

Is there, however, precedent among our forefathers for action which takes us into contact with the world at large, using avenues that fall outside of the Christian community? The answer to this question is an emphatic yes. While a careful examination of our past reveals that the majority of our most esteemed forefathers were willing to face the outside culture—Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, to name the most obvious ones–the writings and actions of our forebears also show that taking action against worldly public sins is not only right, but required. The idea that speaking out publicly against murder is somehow “un-Reformed” would have been very foreign to these men.

Reverend John Newton was a proponent of public advocacy as well. After his conversion, the former slave trader wrote many hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and an autobiography entitled Out of the Depths, but also encouraged others to take action against sinful injustices against the weakest members of society in the public sphere. William Wilberforce, the British Parliamentarian who spent his whole life crusading against (and eventually abolishing) slavery, was one of them. He approached Rev. Newton at the age of 26 to explain that he had undergone a religious conversion and felt he should perhaps leave politics. Instead of giving his blessing, John Newton urged him not to leave politics—but rather to use his position in Parliament to fight against evil. It was Rev. Newton who urged Wilberforce to take up the fight against slavery, and even assisted him by testifying against the slave trade in front of Parliament. Both Newton and Wilberforce knew it as a Christian’s duty to take decisive action, against all opposition, on behalf of the weakest members of society.

The founder of the NRC denomination, Rev. G.H Kersten, also advocated against ‘putting our candle under a bushel,’ but rather to fight for Christian principles in the public square. He said that “there is a withdrawal from the world, non-involvement in politics, and a lack of Christian schools. Thus we are going further and further astray.” His well-known biography by Rev. Golverdingen states that Rev. Kersten himself felt drawn into politics because “he could not resign himself to the passivity he observed in the congregations.” Rev. Golverdingen notes that “Rev. Kersten also berated the indecisiveness and indifference toward national interest by some members of his own circles,” even preaching a sermon where he compared those who refused to defend Christian principles in the public square to the tribe of Reuben refusing to join Deborah in going to battle against Sisera and the Canaanites. As we know, Rev. Kersten himself eventually became a politician in order to defend Reformed principles in the public sphere.

To close, I note how J.C Ryle deals with Christian interaction with the world in his well-read work Practical Religion. Ryle states: “When St. Paul said, ‘Come out and be separate’, he did not mean that Christians ought to decline all intercourse with unconverted people, and refuse to go into their society. There is not warrant for such conduct in the New Testament.” He further noted: “To know nothing about what is going on among mankind, and never to look at a newspaper,–to care nothing about the government of one’s country, and to be utterly indifferent as to the persons who guide its counsels and make its laws—all this may seem very right and proper in the eyes of some people. But I take leave to think that is an idle, selfish neglect of duty…Christians who plume themselves on their ignorance of secular things are precisely the Christians who bring religion into contempt.”

Defending the Sanctity of Life

It seems that there is an increasingly prevalent attitude among Christians that it is somehow wrong to ‘offend’ people, and that since pro-life activism will inevitably offend people, it should therefore be avoided. First, I must point out that a message that involves telling the culture at large that they are murdering their children isn’t going to be popular. If it was, we wouldn’t have the problem. Second, it is an extremely un-Christian and un-Reformed idea that just because our message of truth might not be welcomed by the world, and thus persecution may result, that we should avoid it. If Christians are so at peace with those who believe that killing unborn children is permissible that offending them is “un-Reformed”, it is perhaps necessary to take a second look at this unholy alliance and consider whether or not it is right in the eyes of God who values all life created in His image. If churches are indeed the consciences of nations, and those consciences have fallen silent, we can scarcely be surprised that things have gone horribly wrong.

The Bible demands that we protect our unborn neighbours. Our Reformed heritage shows us that our forbearers did not feel that it was in any way sinful to oppose evil in the public square. Abortion is the greatest evil in our society, an evil where the innocent blood of millions cries out for justice. We cannot withdraw ourselves from our biblical mandate laid out with such clarity in Scripture to protect unborn children with weak excuses that ignore the demands of Scripture and the examples and writings of our forefathers. Hence, Christian pro-life advocates should not have to defend their action. Apathetic Christians should have to defend their inaction.