Graphic photos and (lack of?) respect for fetuses

Really interesting post at The Curvature, suggesting that anti-abortion protesters who carry photos of aborted fetuses aren’t really behaving as we’d expect them to do if they genuinely respected fetuses as human beings. She points out that she wouldn’t protest the slaughter in Darfur by holding up graphic photos of victims. And I feel the pull of this point. But I’m not entirely certain about it: showing people horrors has historically been an important way of having an impact, and one that we don’t generally take to show a lack of respect– think of Vietnam war or Holocaust photos.  So I’m not sure what to make of this.  Perhaps a distinction could be drawn between kinds of images, or the ways they are used, but I feel this would be on shaky ground.  Nonetheless, I feel the pull of Cara’s argument– I worry, though, that this is really only revealing my own bias.  What do others think?  Has there been work done in aesthetics or ethics on this issue?

3 thoughts on “Graphic photos and (lack of?) respect for fetuses

  1. I can’t speak to any actual work done on this, but I think there is a distinction that can be made between anti-abortion protesters and, say, folks who are were against Vietnam or are against Darfur:

    Namely, that anti-abortion folks don’t actually respect fetuses as human life. Gutsy claim, I know, but all the evidence suggests that most anti-abortion folks really just want to control women, and the fetus-respect thing has basically been used as a tool.

    Plus, there is the behavior that is goes along with the photos. Anecdotally, the college I just graduated from had a group of folks come and place billboard-sized photos of aborted fetuses in the middle of campus once a year for 2-3 days (some of the photos had been photoshopped). They were not interested in creating empathy, neither did they exhibit compassion – and most of them were men. Instead, they hounded folks from behind a metal barrier that they requested be erected, citing problems that never occurred in the six years I was around the campus. And they always said the problems had happened “just a few years ago.”

    So forgive me for ranting, and forgive me for not believing anti-abortion folks when they claim to want to respect and honor aborted fetuses. I just don’t see it in their actions.

    And I seriously doubt that people don’t know how messy an abortion can be, or how dangerous, or even what it might look like. I suspect that people do not know these things about Darfur.

  2. I wonder if the difference between the two is this.

    (1) Anti-war posters using pictures of victims:

    its (planned) aim/(actual) consequence is to feel sorry for the victim, to be angry on their behalf, etc. [i.e., primarily to arouse feeling for the victim]

    (2) Anti-abortion posters using pictures of aborted fetuses:

    its (planned) aim/(actual) consequence is to be angry at the perpetuator, etc. [i.e., primarily to arouse feelings against the victim’s “perpetuator”]

    It seems to me that (1) and (2) are designed to invoke two qualitively distinct reactions in a viewer, and that this might have something to do with why (1) might be okay whereas (2) might not be. That is, (1) shows respect for the victims, whereas (2) does not.
    In (1), the the horrible thing that has happened to the victims is used to make a viewer feel for them, for their violated humanity, so to speak. This can be why (1) does not disrepect the victims. So, someone who is moved by the poster to do something anti-war is acting from this sense of wrongful violatiation that they feel has happened to the victim.

    Seeing how (2) usually looks, I don’t think that the same thing can be said for (2). In (2), the horrible thing that has happened to the victims is “used” (i.e., in the sense of “used as a means to an end”). It seems that these posters are designed to make the viewer angry by making the image of fetuses especially offensive (via digital manipulation, addition of images (e.g., objects to show the size of the fetus).

  3. Interesting thoughts. I’m still not sure that all this falls out of what the images are and what’s being done with them, though– I suspect we’re bringing in some of our background beliefs about abortion protestors. I dn’t entirely follow Laura’s contrast between (1) and (2). Surely if we’re to be angry on the victim’s behalf, that means we’re to be angry at the person who did the terrible thing to them, doesn’t it? Is the difference that (1) focusses more on the victim and (2) more on the perpetrator? I can see that difference, but I’m not sure that (2) shows less respect for the victim.

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