Graphic images are necessary to anti-abortion movement

Photography plays a vital role in all human rights campaigns

The Spectrum

If you were on campus between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday or Tuesday, then you probably saw the graphic photos of aborted children, lynched slaves and Jews in concentration camps outside the Student Union. And I'm sure you might have wondered - whether you identified with the anti-abortion or abortion-rights cause - why these offensive photos were being shown.

Were they just there to offend and antagonize people, or did they serve some higher purpose?

One of the amazing things about photography is that it forces us to acknowledge brutality and violence in a way that conversation never could. Gazing upon the bloody, ripped corpse of a 10-week-old human being is infinitely different from referencing the results of "terminated pregnancies" as "blobs of tissue" during political discourse.

Throughout history, photography has helped expose social injustices and genocides. During the late 1800s, King Leopold II of Belgium beat, enslaved, mutilated and brutally killed citizens in the Congo when Belgium's production quotas for rubber and ivory were not met. Had his actions not been exposed through the photography of Alice Seeley Harris and her husband John Harris - missionaries in the Congo during the 1900s - these horrific abuses might never have been exposed. Their photos depicting children with severed arms and legs formed one of the first ever multimedia campaigns for human rights.

Years later, during the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. made sure the brutal attacks on blacks were shown repeatedly and without censorship, on TV and in magazines all over the country. Americans saw the violent photos of dogs attacking blacks; they saw how water cannons were used as weapons on their fellow citizens. And they were forced to acknowledge the grave reality of racism. He understood, as opponents to abortion rights do, that visual societies respond to visual realities.

King said that America would never reject racism until America saw racism. He was right - and today, his niece says the same thing about abortion. Dr. Alveda King, an anti-abortion activist, believes America will never reject abortion until America sees abortion.

So do I. And that's why there were graphic photos outside the Student Union this week. As opponents to abortion rights, and as human beings, we have an obligation to bear witness, to testify to the violence and genocide that is abortion. We need the pictures to show our campus, and the world, the humanity of the pre-born.

Abortion has become unforgivably abstracted in our society - so frequently is it referred to as a choice, a reproductive right, a medical procedure or a necessary surgery, that we forget what it looks like. We lose ourselves in semantics and when that happens, it's easy to forget the physical reality of any situation. Language can impede the truth, despite writers' best efforts to reflect it. As oral and literary communicators, I'm sure we've all become familiar with the limits, and even failures, of language at least once. Hence the old adage that "words fail."

The graphic photos give abortion a face; they anchor the discussion in an inescapable, carnal reality. Most importantly, they do what words can't do. They show the truth.

In the wise words of Flannery O'Connor, American writer and essayist, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." The truth is that photos of abortion are offensive. They're offensive because they show grave human rights violations. We hate to see the pictures of aborted children for the same reason we hate to see pictures of any genocide - they depict fellow human beings stripped of all dignity, worth and value. If these pictures did not sicken us, then we would have to call our society's collective conscience into serious question.

We all agree the Holocaust was a disgusting violation of human rights, targeting a group of people's religious beliefs. And we all agree that slavery was a disgusting violation of human rights, targeting ethnic groups as subhuman. In order to ensure these monstrous injustices never happen again, we must never let ourselves forget the stories of the victims. Pictures force us to remember the victims' stories as they happened.

We must never forget that people allowed society to become so twisted and so terribly misguided that these brutalities were allowed to occur. What lies did we feed ourselves, what broken philosophies did we operate under, that led to these socially accepted and legally sanctioned horrors?

When we examine the rationales that justified these injustices, we quickly realize the haunting parallels between the historical logic of all genocides, and the logic of abortion. When we draw lines between "human" and "person;" when we deem other human beings as "subhuman" based on traits like age or ethnicity; when we argue that matters of human life should be matters of "personal choice," we use the same arguments that killed millions of human beings all over the world throughout history.

We owe ourselves, and the victims of all genocides, the courage to face the truth. Let's use this courage to not only look upon the transgressions of history but also rectify them.