Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I recently came across an old picture of a relative of mine. He was my uncle, but unfortunately I never knew him. He died in a car accident when he was two years old, due to a trucker accidentally running a stop sign. Seeing his face hit me with a pang of sorrow for what happened to him; it made me want to publicize the picture of that smiling little boy to remind people to drive carefully, because real lives are at stake.
I thought of that photo again a few days later, when I heard that some extremist groups were displaying images of aborted babies in a nearby city. There were reports that people were walking around with poster-sized images of the aftermath of abortion, and trucks drove through the city canvassed with huge pictures of aborted children. When I heard this news, that picture of my young uncle fresh in my mind, I was finally able to articulate something that had long bugged me about graphic abortion images:
This is not helping to humanize these babies.
When I was pro-choice, images of abortion never bothered me in the slightest. Every now and then some protesters would stand in front of our high school parking lot and wave gruesome pictures of deceased babies at us as we drove in, and I never had a stronger reaction than to roll my eyes and mutter about how insane pro-lifers were. I had bought into the lie that unborn life is not fully human, and so, in my erroneous thinking, I wasn’t looking at pictures of human life. And I had another reaction as well, one that only entrenched me more deeply in my pro-abortion worldview. I thought:
I don’t think pro-lifers think these fetuses are human either. If they did, they wouldn’t be waving these pictures everywhere.
Among the pro-choice people I knew, the thinking was that the pro-life movement was all about control. We believed that what motivated pro-lifers was not a love of babies, but a desire to keep women under their thumbs. It was assumed that old-fashioned patriarchal types were uncomfortable with all the great freedom that modern women had, thus they wanted to put them back in their place by limiting reproductive “rights.” And images of aborted “fetuses” only bolstered this view. “If pro-lifers really believed that these were deceased human beings,” we said, “they wouldn’t be flashing photos of their mangled corpses everywhere.” We noticed that anti-war protesters who’d had relatives killed in Iraq and Afghanistan walked around with pictures of their loved ones alive to show what was lost; out of love and respect for the fallen soldier, nobody would have widely advertised an image of his brother or father or sister’s maimed and lifeless body.
Now that I’m pro-life, I agree with those who say that the public needs to see more information—images in particular—in order for society to reject abortion. There’s far too much secrecy about this issue, and the average American is unaware of what really goes on behind the walls of her city’s abortion facility. Just as I felt the urge to publicize the image of my young uncle to illustrate what can be lost when people drive carelessly, I can see the importance of publicizing images of babies within the womb to illustrate what is lost in abortion. But displaying images of a deceased person is a different story; just as I’d never want to see pictures of my relative’s body after the accident bandied around casually, we need to be careful about how and when we display images of the victims of abortion. There may be a time and a place for these kinds of graphic visuals, but they should be handled with the delicacy and discretion with which we’d unveil pictures of any other person’s remains. Thrusting pictures of aborted babies in people’s faces seems unlikely to convert people who are pro-choice, and it risks feeding the cultural message that these unborn children are less deserving of respect and dignity than other human beings.