From the Trenches: Pictures of Abortion Victims

by Mary Rose, Assistant Campus Outreach Director



Recently, popular blogger Marc Barnes wrote a couple of articles, Unintentional Fetal Depersonalization  and The Auschwitz Conflation,  arguing that displaying pictures of unborn people - alive or dead - depersonalizes them.  He started by quoting Kierkegaard: “just as important as the truth, and of the two the even more important one, is the mode in which the truth is accepted, and it is of slight help if one gets millions to accept the truth if by the very mode of their acceptance they are transposed into untruth.”

What Kierkegaard  seems to be saying makes sense - that if instead of teaching people the truth, you teach them something false, that’s a bad thing.  I agree with that.  But the only authority arguing that that’s what anti-abortion activists are doing when they show images of their murdered brothers and sisters is Marc Barnes.

Mr. Barnes argues that in displaying an image of the mutilated body of a little boy or girl murdered in the womb, or even a healthy child in utero, an activist in fact depersonalizes that child.  He thinks that somehow by publicly displaying their images we - and the people who see the picture - will forget the actual people whose images we are showing.  I disagree.  In my house I display pictures of people so that I will remember them.  Newspapers publish pictures of people so we remember that they exist and who they are.  Granted, they are born people, but I fail to see how the fact that someone has not yet exited the womb makes displaying their image a depersonalization of them.

Mr. Barnes argues that the first question that should spring to mind when we see a picture of a dead person is “Who is it?”  He goes on to say that since we cannot answer that question as fully for an abortion victim as we would for someone who we knew who lived a longer life, we shouldn’t display a picture of an abortion victim and spark the question in the first place.  Why ever not?  A large part of the answer to the question of who someone is, is what that person did, or what happened to them.  Who is Anne Frank?  Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who was killed during the Holocaust of the Jews in Germany.  Who is the dead baby in that picture?  This was a little boy killed at nine weeks of age in the American abortion holocaust.

Mr. Barnes states: “a person is not a symbol. A person is not an argument.”  I beg your pardon, sir.  Isn’t Rosa Parks still a symbol of courage?  Isn’t Anne Frank a symbol of the humanity of the Jews and the disgusting irrationality of anti-Semitism?  Isn’t President Obama a symbol of equality and pride for many Americans?  Indeed, people are the very clearest and best symbols and arguments because, as human beings, we care about human beings.  We want to know who our actions affect.  We want to see their faces.  The tagline “This is what [feminism or democracy or what have you] looks like” illustrates this to a T.  We want to see the human face of what we’re talking about.  

After arguing that viewing images of the unborn makes us forget who they are, Mr. Barnes concedes that they should be viewed sometimes.  


“I do not believe that pictures of those murdered by abortion should not exist.  They should, as evidence, that is, as a showing of the injustice of abortion, just as pictures of the holocaust showed the holocaust.  They should be available, shown personally to those who do not believe abortion exists, who believe it some benign and magical termination of pregnancy, for this showing treats the person pictured as he or she is, as a person who was murdered.  It shows something that is, it does not use a person as a graphic horrifying enough to convince.”


As someone who “personally” engages the American public on the subject of abortion, I can tell you that the vast majority - if they ever thought about it at all - believe it is “some benign and magical termination of pregnancy” and that the vast majority of those dreamers, on coming face to face with the image of someone who was a victim of abortion, are horrified that they didn’t know that the victims are people.  The two facts - that abortion has happened and that it should not happen - are rather more difficult to separate than Mr. Barnes seems to believe.

I agree with Mr. Barnes that sometimes the images are treated disrespectfully.  But the error lies not in displaying the image, but in how it is done.  It is quite possible to disrespect and depersonalize unborn people without using images at all.  Haven’t we all met well-meaning but quite crazed people outside of abortion mills who depersonalize the unborn children by relegating their death to merely an act that will result in eternal damnation for the mother?  I agree that it is quite possible to forget who we are fighting for in our furor to end the injustice at large, but the public display of images of the victims is not at all the reason for the error.

Mr. Barnes seems conflicted himself.  He says: “For, in an objective view of things, nothing could convince me more that a thing is not a person than its dead body plastered on a sign with some sarcastic caption about “choice” by the very ones demanding the recognition of its personhood.” And: “What was done to them is real, and should be shown, but not by the reduction of the dead to a tool and an effective means of argument, but by letting the pictures speak for themselves, in a time, place, and manner that upholds the dignity of the person shown.”  I cannot fathom how he can hold both of these views at the same time.  Or rather, what either of these statements means.  I think I understand one, until I read the other, and I think I understand the other, until I remember the one.  Seeing the mutilated body on display, titled so those who see the image know what happened to him or her, would convince him that the victim is not a person. But images of the victims should be shown, and allowed to speak for themselves.  So displaying the mutilated body teaches people that the body did not belong to a person, but an image of the body should be displayed to uphold the dignity of the person shown.  I must confess, I don’t know what he means.    

Perhaps the key phrase is “in an objective view of things.”  Mr. Barnes, it is impossible to have an objective view of how you would hypothetically view something.

This is, in fact, a discussion that dwells in the subjective, rather than the objective.  How to respectfully display images of victims of violent injustice is a matter of opinion.  Even you, Mr. Barnes, seem to have contradicted yourself in your own argument.  I do agree, however, that the victims should be memorialized in some way through pictures.

    In summary, displaying a picture of a brother or sister in Christ who was killed by abortion is one of the only ways to remember him or her.  If we did not see his picture, we wouldn’t know him at all.  When we see the child, we understand what little there is to know about his short life: he died a victim in the American holocaust.