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Graphic abortion photos

Yesterday, I again criticized the "Latexhibition" event on campus last month, which led to a reasonable criticism: am I a hypocrite because I have previously supported the use of graphic photographs displaying the aftermath of abortions?

Both the "Latexhibition" photographs and graphic abortion photographs are inappropriate for children, and neither should be published on the front page of Monroe County's main newspaper. Even as someone who believes that graphic photographs of abortions serve a valuable purpose, putting such a picture on the front page of the Herald-Times would expose children to material their parents would rather they not see.

I do see a significant difference, though, between photos of what a baby looks like after it has been aborted and a "condom bouquet" or a "safe sex prom dress". The first and most significant difference is how seriously people displaying the offensive material take the display. Graphic anti-abortion pictures are used to shock people out of their apathy, and educate them on what an abortion really is.

When I have observed local pro-life activists near the Sample Gates using the graphic pictures, I noticed that they turn the pictures in toward each other when children approach. Even some supporters of "reproductive choice" have noticed this and complimented the pro-life activists for it. I initially questioned the usefulness of these protests, even while I supported the right of the protesters to display those pictures. After watching them, though, I changed my opinion and would later join the protests.

The second major difference is the effectiveness of each display, as opposed to other methods of getting the message across. Contrast the serious treatment of anti-abortion photographs at with the silliness of the "safe sex prom dress" or the "condom bouquet". With about 3 million people having died from AIDS worldwide last year alone, the subject deserves much more serious treatment than it got in "Latexhibition".

A "safe sex prom dress" or a "condom bouquet" is not necessary to get the message across of how to eliminate or reduce one's chances of contracting the HIV. There are numerous education efforts already underway that get the point across in a mature, intelligent way. The juvenile display on the Indiana University campus only serves to discredit the message that "Latexhibition" supposedly wanted to get across.

Despite over three decades of pro-life activism since Roe v. Wade, no real progress has been made to criminalize abortion in this country. While the annual number of abortions has been declining, abortion is far from "rare", as both former President Bill Clinton and 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry claim to want it to be. That is why people need to be exposed to the photos.

Are graphic abortion pictures offensive? Yes, and that is exactly why people need to see them. The Guttmacher Institute (a product of Planned Parenthood) reports that there were nearly 1.3 million abortions in 2002. There have been well over 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. This loss of life dwarfs even the Nazi Holocaust. Babies are killed every week right here in Bloomington, Indiana, just a few blocks south of Kirkwood.

I do not believe that supporting the use of graphic abortion photographs while criticizing "Latexhibition" as tasteless and offensive is hypocritical, for the reasons I outlined above. Even if it is hypocritical, that does not negate the logical merits of the arguments I made regarding "Latexhibition". That is a classic ad hominem logical fallacy, criticizing the consistency of the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. Sadly, many people do not know how to think logically, so a charge of "hypocrisy" is all it takes to make them dismiss an otherwise sound argument.

See previous articles on graphic photographs of abortions from April 16, 2000, October 4, 2001, February 4, 2003, December 20, 2003, October 10, 2005

My hypocrisy on abortion photos

Follow-up: January 26, 2007

Last week, I addressed the use of graphic photographs of aborted babies and my opposition to the Herald-Times putting a picture of a "safe sex prom dress" on the front page of the paper. After thinking about it, I do believe I have been a bit hypocritical.

My hypocrisy was taking the position that the aborted baby pictures do not belong on the front page of the paper. Basically, I was trying to remain consistent in my criticism of how the Herald-Times covered "Latexhibition" and the use of the abortion photographs. That attempt at consistency was itself inconsistent.

If I support the use of photographs depicting the results of abortion in a protest, why would I oppose publishing those photographs in the newspaper? Is there something special about the newspaper that makes it different from a public street where an anti-abortion rally or protest is being held?

No, there isn't. In fact, one could argue that the aborted baby pictures serve a valuable journalistic purpose. It is easy to get detached from the reality of abortion while we are talking and writing about "reproductive freedom" or "respecting all human life". Pictures such as the ones used by the Center for Bioethical Reform bring us back to the nub of the issue: is this something that should be legal?

CBR documents the use of violent images in the mainstream media, including the beating of Reginald Denny in the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the dead baby in a firefighter's arms after the 1995 terrorist attack in Oklahoma City. These pictures convey the overall horror and the human cost in a way that plain text cannot.

The primary goal of journalism should be to present facts and information. Pictures are a critical way that journalists have done this in modern times.