The ethics of showing pictures of aborted foetuses in public
Some pro-life groups show pictures of aborted foetuses in public. I will try to address three questions: Is this legal? Is it appropriate? Is it effective?
First of all, we need to clarify that the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed in a letter that showing the reality of abortion is not illegal under the Public Order Act. 4. Pictures showing aborted human foetuses lying in pieces are extremely disturbing but it is not a crime to use them to inform the public about the real consequences of introducing abortion.
Those images are shocking, indeed, because abortion is shocking. This is precisely the point that those who exhibit them are trying to make. The truth is upsetting, pictures don’t lie. They are not euphemisms or easy slogans. Abortion cannot be sanitised.
Any attempt to normalise a termination of life is easily invalidated by the spontaneous reaction of any ordinary person at the sight of the outcome of that termination, i.e. a dead body. If we still feel disgust there is still hope, it means that our sense of humanity has not been totally suppressed by ideology.
Those who defend the choice of abortion can’t campaign for something so abhorrent and then demand to keep its graphic representation totally outside of the public debate. You can’t be pro-choice and at the same time seek to hide the reality of choosing abortion. Despite this, however, I think there are good reasons for only showing these pictures in public places very sparingly.
It is undeniable, for example, that pictures of aborted foetuses will cause distress to some women who have had abortions themselves. It will also upset others, particularly children.
I believe the only appropriate display of those images is when they are used as part of an information board and their scale is sufficiently small so that only those who are really interested will see them. They can be used to educate the general public but only when the potential viewers have been made aware of what they should expect.
I have seen those pictures shown in large scale at roundabouts or walking paths. I don’t think it is appropriate. It might provoke some discussion and sometimes those conversations change minds but usually it will upset and shock people.
The use of such pictures is also considered by some pro-life groups to be counterproductive. They are generally perceived as extreme by the general public and they don’t serve the cause. This is true. A referendum on the eighth amendment will be won only if those who have middle-of-the-road views can be persuaded and I am not convinced that large picture along the street of aborted foetuses will achieve much. Reasonable arguments, personal stories, positive experiences are, instead, more effective way to persuade.