Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Pictures Allowed? [SK]

I’m sometimes told that graphic abortion pictures have no place in formal abortion debates. The claim goes like this: “Forensic competitions do not allow pictures. Nor do court trials. Words alone stand as evidence."

This is wrong on so many counts, but I’ll stick to just three quick replies.

First, as speech and debate professor Dr. Marc Newman points out, every speech textbook on the planet acknowledges the importance of visual aids in speeches where words alone are not adequate to describe something (“The Great Abortion Debate,” p.78).

Second, formal academic debates are not forensic competitions (tournaments with multiple teams) where random topics are assigned mere moments before the event. Rather, academic debates allow each speaker weeks to research his position and present the best case possible, using whatever evidence is relevant in the Socratic quest for truth.

Third, even in court cases, graphic images are admitted as evidence, despite the emotional impact on the jury. Associated Press reports that jurors in the trial of Andrea Yates, the mother who drowned her five young children in a bathtub, will view numerous pictures of the crime scene. One of the photos shows 7-year-old Noah Yates floating face down in the bathtub with his arms outstretched, submerged beneath the water. Others detail bruising on the children and how the bodies of Noah's four younger siblings — John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months — were laid out on a bed in the back bedroom. State District Judge Belinda Hill said the photos' relevance outweighed any prejudice they might cause the jury (“Judge Allowing Yates Jurors to See Crime Scene Photos,” (AP) February 20, 2002).

To cite another example, gruesome photographs depicting the bloody attack by two frenzied dogs took center stage in the trial of a San Francisco couple accused of letting the animals maul a neighbor to death. Prosecutors displayed images of Whipple's fatal injuries—the back of her neck bloodied and punctured by the dog's teeth, her buttocks and breasts also punctured, her face covered in blood. Prosecutors successfully argued that although the images were disturbing, jurors would not understand the nature of the crime without them (“California Jurors See Dog Attack Victim Photos” (AP), February 20, 2002).

Gregg Cunningham puts it well. “If something is so horrifying we can’t stand to look at it, perhaps we shouldn’t be tolerating it.”


  1. I find heart surgery a horrifying sight. If my wife-to-be ever has a c-section, I don't know if I'll be able to stay in the room. I would prefer that we keep both of them as practices.

    I lean pro-life, though I've had other sentiments lately. I just think this argument in particular is kind of ridiculous.

  2. DCB, Is heart surgery morally parallel to intentionally killing an innocent human being? If not, could you clarify your point?

  3. Discerning,

    If we look at the details, especially the RESULTS, of the situations you bring up, we can readily see your analogy is confused.

    The purpose of showing pictures of aborted fetuses is not to dissuade abortions merely because they are "horrifying sights," but to show that abortions RESULT in a substantial moral NEGATIVE; namely, the brutal killings of actual human beings. Quite the contrary, heart surgeries and c-sections RESULT in a substantial moral POSITIVE; namely, healthy hearts, healthy mothers, and healthy babies. Your analogy would be valid only if we knew abortions produce morally positive results (and not the intentional, unjustified killing of innocent human beings).

    A much more accurate analogy would be the following: if person X has a a strong belief that refusing medically prescribed heart surgeries and c-sections does not cause the death of heart patients, mothers, and babies, then showing person X photos (of people who died as a directly result of refusals to undergo those necessary surgeries) is not only morally acceptable and but a laudable act of persuasion.

  4. Animal rights activists never seem to have issues in using graphic pictures to promote their cause ...


All comments are moderated. We reject all comments containing obscenity. We reserve the right to reject any and all comments that are considered inappropriate or off-topic without explanation.