Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph.D. is Director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society www.prolifesociety.com and Author of Abandoned—The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars—Saint Benedict Press, 2012
On the 40th anniversary of Roe. v. Wade, Simcha Fisher posted an article at National Catholic Register online entitled “Eight Reasons Not to Use Graphic Images at the March for Life.” Simcha’s negative view of graphic images is part of a larger debate within the pro-life movement on the use of abortion victim photos and I now offer this rebuttal.
Simcha prefaced her eight reasons by stating: “A public place is not the place to use these images—ever.” Simcha makes it clear that she does not oppose the use of graphic images in certain contexts, but she attempts to argue that they should never be used in a public forum. Simcha contradicts her own position when she states that seeing the photos caused her to “be shaken out of a vague, fuzzy support for the pro-life cause into the realization that this is a life and death struggle—real life and real death.” If so, then why oppose the public display of the tragedy of abortion when others too may be shaken into the same realization? Here are Simcha reasons and my response to them.
First Objection: Children Will See the Photos
Simcha argued that since parents do not allow children to watch gruesome slasher movies, with fake blood and violence, children should not be exposed to real violence, and in this case the violence of abortion. Of course the display of graphic images is not deliberately aimed at children and they are not entertainment. I would argue that the pro-life movement has an obligation to publicly reveal the injustice of abortion, to indeed—as she already acknowledged—awaken dead souls to America’s national tragedy. Even as pro-lifers we can fail to realize the crisis that legalized abortion represents—a social/moral crisis that sends 3,500 innocent people to their deaths each day with the sanction of law. This crisis requires that the truth be publicly exposed—and the magnitude of the injustice that we face overrides the possibility that children will see the pictures. It simply makes no sense to forego the public exposure of our national slaughter that has sent tens of millions of children to their deaths for the sake of sparing children who might see the photos and who might be affected by them. The horrific injustice of abortion and our nation’s continued support for it requires that the photos be shown—despite the possibility of children seeing the disturbing images. This is not to say that pro-lifers should be insensitive to this potential problem. Pro-life demonstrations and especially Face the Truth tours should post visible warning signs. Doing so goes a long way to mitigate the concern that children will be exposed to the violence of abortion.
On a more personal note, my own children as early as the age of 5 held graphic images in public demonstrations with me at their side. They have suffered no negative affects in any way. Rather this built up their resolve to oppose abortion. Furthermore, I have vast personal experience with parents whose children have seen the signs and I can say that the way parents themselves respond to the images influences the response of their children. If the parents are angry and upset—so will the child be. But if the parent exhibits a sense of peace and explains to the child what happened to the unborn baby in a way that children can understand, potential trauma is much alleviated. Nevertheless, to impose as requirements that children will never see the photos or that they will never be upset by them are simply unjustified demands in light of the need to reveal the truth about abortion in order to bring this injustice to an end.
Second Objection: The Photos Will Upset Post-Abortive Women
My response to this is similar to the response above. Yes, the movement rightly needs to sensitive to the needs of post-abortive women, but again, the primary victims of abortion are the millions who perish under the law in a violent death, in a nation that at least tolerates such killing and at worst advocates such killing. The enormity of the injustice requires that the public be awakened to the slaughter. No pro-lifer is forcing post-abortive women to look at the bloody remains of an aborted child. That is not the purpose of a demonstration that uses graphic images. And there simply is no one-size-fits-all response of post-abortive women to such images. It makes no sense to stop showing the photos in order to spare post-abortive women who may become upset when these very photos actually prevent women from choosing abortion and thus spare them a life-time of torment.
On the display of graphic images well known pro-life activist Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, stated: “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.”
Objection Three: The Photos Will Upset Mothers
I can honestly say that in 37 years of activist activity, and as a mother of three born children and the mother of three miscarried children, I never known any mother to be affected by abortion photos in a psychologically negative manner. This is not to say that certain mothers do not experience deep sorrow at the sight of these photos or re-live a sense of loss regarding their miscarried babies. But such a response is not negative—it is simply human, and again in no way does the arousal of such sentiments and emotions justify keeping the victims of abortion hidden from the general public for the sake of bringing an end to abortion.
Objection Four: Showing the Photos Dishonors the Child
Famous humanitarian and concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel stated: “To forget murder victims is to kill them twice.” The photos of the aborted unborn and their public exposure in no way dishonors these children. Abortion kills real people, it assaults the life of a personal someone—a personal someone that the very act of abortion meant to keep hidden forever, to blot out a life as if he or she had never lived. When a pro-lifer photographs that victim and exposes the injustice done to that victim—short of a humane burial, this is the highest possible honor that can be given to that aborted child. When a graphic image is displayed—it is that child who speaks. The abortion photo is the only real way we can say these particular hidden, unwanted persons lived once, that their lives matter, and through the photos we can contemplate the injustice they suffered and be aroused to do something about it!
Objection Five: Showing Graphic Images Gives Pro-Lifers a Bad Image
Simcha said that anyone who publicly displays graphic images “come across as a lunatic.” She was quick to add that such a person is “not a lunatic” yet she believes that such pro-lifers “sure look that way.” I have spent countless hours on Face the Truth Tours, planned hundreds of demonstrations with graphic images and certainly some of those who observe us think we are “lunatics.” However, there are just as many, if not indeed the majority of those who see us who understand that we are protesting an injustice—that we are making an issue out of it and who, even if they don’t agree with us, treat us with respect for taking a stand. When Simcha believes those who display graphic images are viewed as “lunatics” I suspect that she is revealing her own personal repugnance of pro-life activism and her own fear of being misunderstood than is the actual case when it come to this type of pro-life demonstration.
Objection Six: Graphic Images Push Women Into Abortion
Simcha agrees that graphic images have saved lives—that woman intending to abort changed their minds after viewing the images. However, she argues that such photos should not be used because some women are so repelled by them that they “freaked out and rushed into the clinic.” The problem with her whole argument here is that every baby was schedule to be killed and that none of them would be alive unless the reality of abortion was present to the abortion-bound women. In other words, through the graphic images some babies were spared abortion who would otherwise be dead! So—this is not an argument against graphic images—but an argument in their favor!
However, there is one valid point that she inadvertently makes—namely that in a sidewalk counseling situation there should be no graphic posters near the entrance to the clinic if pro-lifers have an opportunity to talk to the women. The pro-lifer needs to be able to engage the woman one-on-one—to really counsel her as a friend. The pro-lifer will have expanded the opportunity for personal engagement with the woman in this singularly most sensitive—urgent moment—if the trappings of a protest are not there.
Objection Seven: Graphic Images Desensitize Pro-lifers to Abortion
As someone who has taken the broken bodies of the aborted unborn out of the trash, spent hundreds of hours up-close with these victims photographing them, and attended countless demonstrations with the posters of abortion victims, I can honestly say such exposure has not hardened me to the injustice of abortion. I know of no committed pro-lifer who is less resolved to fight the injustice of abortion due to repeated exposure to the victims. Indeed, as I said in my book Abandoned—The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars—a book that, by the way, contains eight photos of aborted babies—“ Once you see the bodies with the right mind, you can never go back. They have taken you into their world.”
Objection Eight: People Will See What They Want to See
This is Simcha’s weakest argument. Basically she says that since those who support abortion will deny the authenticity of the abortion victim photos, pro-lifers should stop showing them. This is like saying, since there are those who deny that the Nazi Holocaust ever happened, the photos of concentration camp victims should cease to be displayed. Who cares if the enemies of life deny the truth of the photos? This is no reason not to show them. The reality still needs to be exposed no matter whom or how many wish to deny the truth. Simcha’s argument here simply cannot be taken seriously.
In Conclusion—Abortion Photos Are a Necessary Element of the Pro-Life Cause
There is simply no social reform movement that did not make use of images of injustice to advance its cause. This is because images of injustice speak and change hearts in a way that no speeches, political strategies, facts and statistics could ever do. Some, like Simcha Fisher argue that the viewing of abortion images should be infrequent and completely voluntary. However, this means that only those in our pro-death nation who are willing and motivated to check out a website, read a book with graphic images, seek out pro-life literature that contains them will ever be confronted by the reality of the abortion atrocity. And so we are talking about the very few!
If the movement relied solely on a voluntary audience we would not educate those millions of people who need to be exposed to the tragedy of our national slaughter and have their consciences awakened. And it is painfully obvious that the movement cannot depend on the media to do this for us.
55 million people have been put to death in our national crime. The majority of the public has yet to be awakened to this atrocity. The showing of images of the victims—images that primarily communicate the humanity of the victim—are a necessary part of the pro-life effort to end the killing of the unborn. The photos tell a terrible truth that would otherwise remain hidden—and our movement would be seriously impoverished—perhaps even crippled— without the telling of this truth.