Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A Response to Peter D Williams - The use of graphic abortion images

This article is in response to Peter D Williams recent article over at the Catholic Herald here. I must start by making it clear that I fully appreciate Williams point of view and other great work but maintain that he is mistaken on this point.

For some reason Williams feel it necessary like pro-abortion advocates to mention that showing images of abortion is in some way related to the US as if that's something inherently negative or even relevant. Yes, Abort67 may be supported by The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform an American organisation, but that's of little relevance when its realised that the practice of displaying graphic images was something that has its roots here in the UK and was in fact an export to the US rather than the other way round. Even if this were not the case, images and arguments have neither gender or nationality and should be allowed to speak for themselves regardless of who does or doesn't practice using them. It was in fact William Wilberforce who first commissioned images of human slavery to demonstrate to the public the horrific reality of slavery to those who were either ignorant or apathetic to the plight of African slaves.

Wilberforce realised that it's extremely difficult to argue with an image, these images made it difficult for people to ignore the obvious evil of slavery and made it increasingly difficult to justify. That's not to say that people still didn't try to justify slavery much like people still do today in the case of abortion for economic purposes, as if the value of a human life is trumped by financial circumstances. This is the strength of abortion images, they encroach on the area of support and appeal to our most basic intuitions and conscience leaving room for only irrationality or blind obedience to a radical pro-choice ideology.

Williams then argues that showing abortion images is counter-productive for the UK pro-life lobby and thus we should be in 'total opposition' to such tactics. He thinks that even if it does indeed stop some abortions it will ultimately cause offence and harden hearts, I can only imagine that this sort of thing was also said by well meaning Christians in response to Wilberforce's use of images of slavery. Of course images may offend, but more importantly they make it impossible for abortion to remain hidden, socially acceptable and out of the public's eye and instead make it something that must be addressed head on rather than swept under the cultural carpet. This of course is not to say that this is the only thing pro-life advocates should be doing but its certainly one important and vital cog in the whole operation, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Certainly not everyone is going to be ecstatic at seeing an abortion image, but I speak for myself and a number of others I personally know where the use of images has been instrumental in changing their politically correct views into philosophical and scientifically defensible ones.

Williams then states that because displaying abortion images may result in false accusations and lies that we should avoid using them so the pro-life lobby doesn't get charactered in the same way. Again going back to the use of images of slavery, it could be argued that slavery eventually would have been outlawed had images not been employed, of course this may have been the case, but it happened much quicker and effectively by using them! The truth is that when images are displayed near abortion clinics, they are silent protests, trained women are there to council women if they want to talk, there is no shouting or intimidation, just displays of what abortion does to the unborn. If pro-aborts wish to distort what happens that is up to them but we shouldn't stop doing something that has proven to be effective because we wish to avoid mud sticking to our cause.

There seems to be no perfect way of practising pro-life advocacy in the UK which is why I think its important that we use a variety of different approaches, some of which different people will be more comfortable with than others. Similarly this applies when preaching the gospel, some like Alpha, others street preaching and door-knocking. Each has individual strengths and weaknesses but I would never tell someone not to preach the gospel because I disagreed with their particular approach assuming that it was done with the right heart. It may be true that some may be further hardened by seeing an abortion image but likewise it may change other peoples minds who otherwise wouldn't have known the reality of abortion by other means. The article from the Vitae Foundation is an interesting piece even if it is based on anecdotal observations but as I've stated such methods must be used in partnership with other methods and are not in themselves stand alone approaches. To think otherwise is both simplistic and unrealistic.

Sometimes a picture says more than words ever can.
The 'gentler' approach used by Williams may make us more friends in the short-term but ultimately abortion is something urgent and it should be treated as such whether that wins us friends or not, whether we are preaching the gospel or being pro-life advocates we should not go looking for trouble or even intend it but sometimes the truth has a habit of causing controversy and conflict (Luke 12:51-53). The goal of pro-life advocacy is not to make friends but to speak the truth in love by doing what is necessary to raise awareness of the person-hood and rights of the unborn. Crisis Pregnancy Centres and the like do an amazing work and service but I think more is needed and I think the use of images can be affective at University campuses and near abortion clinics. Perhaps standing outside abortion clinics isn't ideal but I can't help but think that it's a necessary endeavour that in partnership with a number of different approaches can and will have a dramatic affect on our society. We need to make sure women are cared for and valued themselves and given any help they need to help them support their baby whilst endeavouring to create a society where the unborn are valued, and a culture that doesn't see killing as a possible solution.


  1. The fact a practice gives rise to revolting spectacle is a poor predictor of it being immoral or not. Cancer surgery, rectal dis-impaction and all other sorts of medical care look revolting, yet they are generally laudable things. There are a family of other such counter-examples: we do not mind that a married couple has sex, but would rather not have a video of the act played in public to us, etc.

    So changing your mind about something *just* because of some image of it you are averse to seems unwise.

    1. My point isn't that images alone necessarily make a difference but they can and do. Some people are not open to argument and reason because they see abortion as the means to ridding them of their *problem*. I don't think showing abortion images alone is particularly helpful which is why it must always be combined with practical help and advice.

      Also no-one is arguing that simply because an image may be gross or revolting that it is necessarily morally wrong, and I don't believe that's what you really thought I meant. Pictures of abortion and slavery detail something morally wrong and may be seen as offensive as well. A picture of someone's poop maybe offensive but its doesn't display any moral wrong.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. You clearly haven't seen my poop failedatheist.

      Yes, it strikes me that once you commit to not using graphic images the same argument will lead you to not protesting outside abortuaries and similar public displays which, often misconstrued as they are, may damage the cause. I'm content with that conclusion myself. I believe the battle for hearts and minds is in ideas. That is, in the media and academia, not on the streets.

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