Monday 9 July 2012

Using images of abortion in educational settings

Today Comment is Free posted a blog by a woman who shared images of her abortion procedure as an attempt to ‘counter the perverse use of dead foetus images used by the anti-abortion movement’. This led to a Twitter discussion about said images – where do they come from? And is it appropriate to use images of abortion, either to further the pro-choice cause or to argue against legal abortion?

Involved as we are, in abortion education, EFC regularly comes across anti-abortion groups which use images of aborted fetuses as a device to support their viewpoint. In 2008 we had the pleasure of sitting through a SPUC presentation containing graphic images, which despite the helpful warning (below) led to a number of teachers in the room turning their backs on the presenter and young people leaving the room in tears. Although SPUC may not be using these images in their school presentations anymore they continue to host them in the ‘education’ section of their website (does not link directly to pictures).
Slide from a SPUC school presentation
Abort67, another UK group which opposes abortion in all circumstances puts graphic images at the centre of its ‘education’ work. They argue that these images ‘awaken people’s consciences in order for them to know that abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby’. Abort67 display large billboards of such images outside clinics which perform abortions, an action which has drawn criticism from locals, including students attending a college close to the Brighton clinic. (We tend not to link to the Abort67 website as it launches straight on to a video of an abortion procedure).

Through our education and advocacy work we’re aware of anti-abortion pictures and videos being used in schools and colleges across the country. Believe it or not, there are still schools in the UK which show the heavily discredited ‘Silent Scream’ film from 1984. Outside of the classroom, young people who search for ‘abortion’ on the internet will be faced with a plethora of confusing information and graphic images from anti-choice websites.

The groups which use graphic images of abortion claim that they are a way in which to inform women of the ‘reality’ of the procedure, while many of those who identify as pro-choice may echo the anonymous CiF blogger’s comment that these images are ‘propaganda...being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame and isolation’.

Certainly, we have concerns and questions about the use of images which purport to represent the ‘reality’ of abortion:
•    Are these images reliable? We’ve heard reports of ‘abortion’ images being computer generated or ‘mislabelled’ (for example a picture of a still-born baby being presented as an aborted fetus). This article (which contains said images as reference and may be triggering for some) gives more information. Certainly, showing children an abortion performed by hysterectomy as SPUC have done is not representing the ‘reality’ of abortion – this is an extremely rare method of abortion, so rare that it does not even appear in UK statistics and is used only in emergency situations.
•    Are these images useful for a young person’s education? Do they tell us anything about the morality of abortion? The factors which might influence a woman’s decision? The medical or legal facts relating to abortion?
•    Are these images likely to stigmatise the option of abortion? How will they affect the well-being of the young people who may have had, or go on to have abortions (a third of women in this country)?  In her research into repeat abortion amongst young people in London Lesley Hoggart found that the stigma surrounding abortion was a direct contributing factor to young women’s access to professional support with contraception and pregnancy.

We believe that young people have a right to accurate information about pregnancy and abortion. And that they are entitled to learn about sexual and reproductive health in a safe environment which does not stigmatise abortion or seek to deliberately upset or distress them in the interests of a moral agenda. Unfortunately, graphic images of abortion are sometimes used in educational contexts with just this aim.

Guardian coverage of anti-abortion groups in schools.

1 comment:

  1. I always find it weird when people use these images to turn people against abortion. Is the argument 'things that don't look nice must be wrong'?

    Images of births can be petty bloody. Should we avoid births? And being a little squeamish, I don't want to see images of a heart transplant operation particularly, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'm against the operation.