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If the Ear Won't Listen, Tell It to the Eye
The Case for Proliferating Graphic Pictures of Abortion

By Rolley Haggard
December 2, 2013 5:26 PM


Does the name Emmett Till mean anything to you? It should. Photographs of Emmett Till are credited by some with launching the modern-day Civil Rights movement. That's right, pictures of one young man marked a turning point in racial relations in America.

How? Simple. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, the “thousand words” told by a single picture of Emmett Till were shocking beyond belief. They couldn't be ignored or dismissed.

You see, Emmett Till was murdered in an exceptionally brutal fashion. His grossly disfigured body spoke volumes about the evil committed against him. Emmett's mother, against convention, against the urgings of others, chose for Emmett an open-casket funeral. By making people see Emmett, not just hear about him in the obituaries, she galvanized a population against the horrific crime of lynching.

To be sure, people had “heard” things like this before—with their ears. But not with their eyes. They had never seen them. Emmett's mother made sure the world saw what Emmett had to say—in his death.

You can read Emmett Till's story here. You can watch a video summary here. And you can see the unedited picture, published by Jet magazine, here. But a word of warning: the open-coffin pictures of Emmett Till are extremely graphic.

As they should be.

Why? Because to understate the enormity of a gruesome crime is to effectively give it sanction. By not showing it just as it is, in all its horror, we make it seem not so evil. The hard truth is that without pictures, with mere words alone, it is easy for the public to remain ignorant and apathetic about even the most monstrous evils.

Such is the weakness of words.

But show us a photograph and we instantly grasp the heinousness of a crime. Show us a picture and we are stirred to appropriate, even sacrificial, even sometimes heroic, action.

Such is the power of pictures.

So if we are going to end the heinous crime of abortion, we need to use pictures as a matter of course. Graphic pictures.

A dozen years ago, George J. Annas, writing for the New England Journal of Medicine, observed that “in the debate over abortion we are all past the point at which facts and logic matter.” Annas recognized a truth about human nature: We are numbed by numbers and lulled by logic. Stalin is alleged to have said, “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.” Sadly, the aphorism is true. Mention “56 million abortions” and the average churchgoer hears “blah blah blah.” He or she continues sleepwalking through the slaughter. But show that same churchgoer a picture of a tiny human being violently mutilated, minutes and inches from enjoying the incredibly exhilarating miracle of birth, and instantly he or she is viscerally galvanized into righteous outrage and the desire to do something, anything, everything lawful to end the abomination of our age.

The lesson of the past 40 years of legally sanctioned abortion is that if you want to rally sufficient numbers to overturn evil practices, it isn't enough to simply get people to agree the practices are wrong. You've got to get them to be profoundly disturbed by them.

Nothing is more profoundly disturbing to a human being than a picture of a brutally butchered fellow human being.

That is why we have to show the public graphic pictures of abortion. America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion. Until then, it will seem unreal, distant, irrelevant, something they don't need to be “overly concerned” about. But if this isn't something to be overly concerned about, then nothing is. Take a look at an aborted baby and tell me I'm wrong.

The world understands the power of picturesThe September 20, 1943, issue of Life magazine featured an unprecedentedly graphic picture of three American GIs who had been killed in action on a beach in the South Pacific. Justifying their action, the editors wrote, “The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. The words are never right.”

So firmly does National Geographic believe in the power of pictures they devoted their 125th Anniversary Issue (October 2013) to recognition of it. Marcus Bleasdale stated:

When I first went to the Congo, I realized that a hundred years after Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, nothing had changed. . . . So I keep bringing back these images because I want to make people as angry as I am. I want them to know the minerals in our mobile phones or computers or cameras are funding violence. How can we make the horror stop? It begins with a photograph.

In the same issue, photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols wrote, “My pictures are about making people realize we've got to protect those who can't speak for themselves.”

Nichols was talking about endangered animals. But what of people?

During the O.J. Simpson trial, prosecutor Brian Kelberg argued, “There are no charts, no words, that can convey what these photographs [of the slashed murder victims] can.”

The defense had argued that the photos were too graphic and sickening, and should not be shown. They proposed charts and diagrams as an alternative. But ultimately the judge allowed the photos. If you're going to make the case for the aggravated nature of a murder, words alone won't convince the jury. Pictures will.

Social evils can't be addressed unless they are faced. People need to see the photos of what has actually happened to the victims of abortion. Anyone willing to defend abortion ought to be willing to see what it looks like, and those who oppose abortion ought to be willing to display it. Only then will enough people feel sufficient outrage to make the sacrifices necessary to see this unspeakable injustice abolished.

How can we make the horror of abortion stop? Show the public what happened to 56 million “Emmett Tills” [← WARNING: Extremely graphic pictures of aborted “Baby Malachi” and “Baby Choice”].

If the ear won't listen—and 40 years of tolerance for this monstrous barbarism argue that it won't—then we need to tell it to the eye. It has 20/20 hearing.

This article originally appeared on Breakpoint and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Rolley Haggard
Rolley Haggard 
is a feature writer for BreakPoint.

Read Rolley Haggard's Bio and other articles

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