Content warning: abortion; pro-life propaganda.
What would your first reaction be to hearing that a woman used a camera on her mobile phone to secretly take photographs during an abortion procedure? It’s likely that you may experience something like I did: surprise, and confusion, and an instinctive desire to recoil slightly?
My reasons for these feelings, as for most feelings, are complex. Abortion is, after all, highly personal and can be highly upsetting for those directly affected by them (the most obvious being the women undergoing the surgery, and the would-be father of the unborn child).
And yet, the more I read about thisismyabortion.com and the anonymous photographer’s explanation for her actions, the more the idea began to make sense to me.
The idea that abortion is horrifying and taboo is ingrained in our society. In conversation, the word makes people uneasy, and people are usually keen to steer away from the discussion of any personal experience of abortion, just as they would from the subject of rape or sexual abuse.
None of this detracts from the fact that the decision and process of having an abortion remains highly personal, or that many women may be deeply emotionally affected by it.
But the author of ‘This is my abortion’ addresses head-on one of the main issues which contributes to the idea that abortion is ‘horrifying’.
Just past the bulletproof security doors, the graphic nature of that imagery haunted me in the waiting room. What would my abortion look like? I decided to secretly document my abortion with my cell phone.
My intention in documenting and sharing my abortion is to demystify the sensationalist images propagated by the religious and political right on this matter. The perverse use of lifeless fetus photographs are a propaganda tool in the prolife/prochoice debate in which women and their bodies are used as pawns to push a cultural, political, and religious agenda in the United States.
It is a sad fact that even in this age of education and information that many anti-abortion campaigners use what is essentially emotional bullying and intimidation to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies. As this blogger has pointed out, the most graphic and disturbing images are used in order to shock people into shame and, I suppose, a kind of twisted empathy.
I am not sure exactly what the motive is behind these kind of tactics; whether particular ‘pro-lifers’ hope to stir a deep compassion for the life (as they see it) that might be cruelly ended prematurely, or such guilt and revulsion that women cannot bring themselves to go through it. Doubtless, there must be people who feel both. Whichever response they might achieve, it is a manipulated emotion; it will not bring about a decision informed by facts, and may force a woman into a mental state she would not otherwise experience. The following is from the author’s op-ed in the Guardian’s Comment is free:
Experiencing my own abortion and photographing the result was a sobering experience. As a woman, I reckon with the power of images every day. But after my abortion, I realised images are literally being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame, and isolation. The protesters’ heartless use of lifeless foetus images made me feel cheated, lied to and manipulated. It was just propaganda: intended to shake the core of my deepest biological, intellectual and emotional foundation.
The images shown on ‘This is my abortion’ do not seek to manipulate in the same way that many of the ‘pro-life’ images do. The author, as she explains, intends to ‘demystify’ the process in order to allow women to better inform themselves about what really happens during the abortion procedure.
This is crucial to women’s freedom in deciding whether or not to continue a pregnancy. It is so important that we fight any movement which aims to force any group of people into a particular decision through the use of this kind of propaganda. It is unjust, unethical and utterly inhumane to attempt to bully a person out of a medical procedure, and I hope that these images will help to disempower those who aim to do so.