Missing Persons: Words & Images Reveal Only A Sliver of The Injustice of Abortion

“Nothing has the ability to awaken moral intuitions like an image.”  I’ve made this statement countless times over the last 6 years when introducing a short abortion victim video to my audiences. However, I recently got to thinking about this and came to realize it simply isn’t true. 

In her collection of poems entitled Bellocq's Ophelia, American poet Natasha Trethewey cleverly quips, “I’ve learned the camera well – the danger of it, the half-truths it can tell.” She raises an important point. In a photoshopped world, images become all the more attention-grabbing, but as one observer noted, the viewer no longer trusts the veracity of the image. Perception is no longer reality, if it ever was. We may like (or hate) what we see, but we no longer trust what we see. We cynically assume, often correctly, that what we see are only “half-truths.” At best, a picture paints a thousand words but what photograph could capture the sweet fragrance of a flower, or the rapturous melody of Handel’s Messiah?

As indispensable as both words and images are in my work in exposing the injustice of abortion, they could never tell the whole story. Not even ten thousand words could adequately describe the gruesome method of child-killing we call abortion. And although we catch a glimpse of abortion’s horror through the camera’s lens, we remain comfortably protected from the stench of its noxious odor and from feeling “the sensations of dismemberment that flow through the forceps like an electric current,” to quote abortionist Warren Hern.

This is why even when graphic abortion images are shown, abortion’s primary victims are still missing from every pro-life protest or event. Their absence from the abortion debate provides a tremendous tactical advantage to abortion profiteers and supporters who wrap the baby’s dismembered body in sanitized euphemisms and who argue that outlawing abortion will only drive women into “back alleys.” In reality, this is precisely where they want abortion to stay - in the back alleys of our minds, safely quarantined from “infecting” our consciences. The fact that the mere images of abortion’s victims are almost never shown at our pro-life events or in our churches says something about how vile the real thing really is.

In 1991 my wife, Barb, and I held abortion in our hands. A friend lifted a baby girl of about 5 months gestation from a dumpster behind an abortion clinic in Detroit. She was perfectly formed and beautiful, except for the fact that she was dead. Her body was cold and limp and terribly discolored from the saline solution that burned her from her mother’s womb. I’ve told this story many times to audiences. The raised eyebrows I occasionally encounter suggests some are more offended that somebody would lift a child from a dumpster than they are that somebody would put her there in the first place.

A part of me wishes I could violate social norms and bring her with me to my speaking engagements. Audiences sit in stunned silence when I show a 58-second abortion victim video because again, a picture paints a thousand words. The mere sequence of flat digitized images evokes deep feelings about abortion. But imagine – please try to imagine – the impact of holding out the burned body of a murdered child for all to gaze upon. Her presence would protest the evil done to her in a way no words or photographs ever could. After all, if a picture paints a thousand words, how many words might the corpse of an aborted child paint?

It is easy for smug politicians and elitist university professors to pontificate about “a woman’s right to choose” when they never have to breathe in the smell of death or hold the burned and mutilated victims of their treacherous worldview in their hands. So too, it is easy for pastors and Christians to stay silent and comfortably numb to the plight of the preborn when they never have to feel the dead weight of a child – perhaps from their own congregation – whose limbs dangle lifelessly from her torso. Regrettably, the one thing that might awaken one’s conscience better than the image of an aborted child is the very thing most people will certainly never encounter; the aborted child herself. Cadavers communicate what cameras never could.

Moreover, no number of pixels could help us see the greater evil of abortion, which is not found in the brutality of the act itself nor in the physical pain it inflicts, but in robbing another human being of the precious gift of life. Even if abortion were a tidy and painless act, it would remain a grave injustice because it is not ultimately the method of killing that renders abortion immoral, but the killing itself. To rob a human being like the precious little girl in that back-alley dumpster in Detroit of her right to life is to rob her of every right and every human experience. It is to strip her of absolutely everything. This is the greater transgression of “choice,” and this is why we must never relent from exposing abortion and advocating for the legal protection of every human being at every stage of development. 

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Mike Spencer