One of the most controversial aspects of the pro-life movement is its use of abortion victim photography. Some pro-lifers use graphic images in their activism and others accept its use as just another type of pro-life activism, there are those that oppose the use of abortion victim photography, and perhaps surprisingly on both sides of the abortion debate. There are even some people who wish it to be outlawed, such as Whitby’s Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who through a House of Common’s e-petition is attempting to ban the use of signs that contain abortion victim imagery. When The Interim went to press the petition had 3800 signatures.
It seems that everybody within the pro-life movement has their own opinion on how and when to use abortion victim photography – or to be more accurate, how and when not to use it. Many disagree with it being used places where there is a higher chance that children or post-abortive mothers will walk. Some believe it has to be used only as an aid to talk to someone about abortion. I am sure that there are even those in the pro-life movement who oppose the use of abortion victim imagery in public at all.
I have noticed that the opinions of pro-life individuals and groups towards abortion victim photography’s place in the pro-life movement is often an indication of their underlying philosophy towards the pro-life movement itself, or rather how they think the pro-life movement should be seen in order to be effective. Many believe that the hostility that is provoked by the activists who use abortion victim imagery is not a good thing for the movement. Thus, one’s opinion on abortion victim photography is often, though not always, more a question of tactic than morality. This is something I especially believe to be true in the political arm of the pro-life movement, where opposition towards the use of abortion victim imagery can sometimes be found due to the belief that the battle can be won sooner with logical discussions on abortion and being politically active than by bombarding the public with images of murdered preborn children.
Additionally, those individuals and groups that do not shy away from abortion victim imagery seem to have a different idea on how the pro-life movement must present itself in order to be the most effective. For example, the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) embraces abortion victim photography and believe it to be the most important weapon that the pro-life movement has. Their goal, according to their website, is that by the year 2030 every resident of Calgary and Toronto will see an image of an aborted baby on a weekly basis.
They also want as many Canadians as possible to see the imagery, as well as every resident of Toronto and Calgary to have had a discussion about abortion. Though CCBR’s plan may seem extreme to some, it cannot be denied that there is a compelling logic to their strategy. With the help of the law and a strong liberal bias in the media, the “pro-choice” side has had their rhetoric and slogans ingrained into the minds of Canadians for many decades. Maybe the best way to destroy the skewed idea of abortion as an essential reproductive right is through a constant visual reminder of what abortion actually is. Certainly at least a few more people more would be convinced that abortion is unthinkable through this plan. And after all, hasn’t graphic and powerful imagery been an important staple to all past human rights movements?
Of course, there is no need for the differing ideas about abortion victim imagery’s place in the pro-life movement’s future to contradict. After all, the movement is multi-faceted and is fought on many fronts. The purpose of abortion victim imagery is to remind us of the consequences of abortion, as well as to educate those who do not know the truth about abortion. Though there are many that concern themselves greatly with the location that this imagery is used, I believe that as long as it is being used under the correct intentions, there is nothing wrong with it.
It has been argued by many, for example, that abortion victim photography is disrespectful to the dead preborn child that is in the picture. I must disagree with those people, for the corpse on the sign is of a human child who was unjustly – and legally – murdered in a crime against humanity and I do not see how there is anything wrong with using their image as an aid to preventing such atrocities from continuing. The undeniable humanity of the child should always be the message of these photos.
Many people will also say they oppose abortion victim photography due to the fact that young children will often see these pictures and will be scarred by it. This is a point that I sympathize with, being someone who was raised in the pro-life movement and having a distinct memory of witnessing the imagery for the first time as a “nonconsenting child” (as the e-petition puts it) at a National March For Life sometime in my single-digit years. The images displayed on the signs are certainly horrific to the young child’s mind – as they should be to everyone who sees them — and that should never be understated. But critics of abortion victim photography are probably underestimating the resiliency of children and exposure to these photos is unlikely to have a permanent negative effect. Of course, reasonable precautions should still be taken to limit children’s exposure to these signs and there are often are, though sometimes it is not possible.
Likewise, similar logic must be employed when dealing with the issues of women who have had abortions who may be triggered when they see these images. Though abortion victim photography is overwhelming to many, pro-life activists should not compromise their efforts to educate the public on the humanity of the unborn child due to this. After all, the greatest tragedy a post-abortive woman can face is to realize her child’s humanity only after she has had the abortion, and through having activism that is as largely spread as possible, we can save women from this tragedy.
The single most important thing is to make sure that these opinions do not divide us. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the tactics of a pro-life activist, one must realize that we are grounded on one common goal, which is to save babies. Groups like CCBR and Show the Truth have compiled testimonies of the people who have become pro-life and people who kept their babies due to seeing abortion victim photography. To me. at least, that is enough evidence to put my qualms to rest.
James Schadenberg is a philosophy student at the University of Western Ontario and was a Campaign Life Coalition summer student.