Study: Graphic Abortion Victim Images Swayed Pro-Abortion Views

By Dustin Siggins Published on September 20, 2016

Will seeing the dismembered body of an aborted child cause people to oppose abortion? According to a new study in Canada, showing people graphic images of abortion victims convinced some to be more pro-life. And while many claim that the use of what is called “abortion victim photography” makes people react against the pro-life movement, the study found that it had the opposite effect.

Seeing pictures of the unborn victims of abortion was linked to an increase in both the pro-life worldview and pro-life political views, and made many feel more negatively about abortion and thus favor less permissive abortion laws, according to the study. This was true of everyone from those who identified themselves a completely pro-life to those who were completely pro-abortion.

Pro-abortion sentiment dropped by about seven percent, according to the study’s executive report, which also claims that the use of such images is now “scientifically established as an effective tool.”

The study, commissioned by the group Created Equal and analyzed by Jacqueline Harvey, Ph.D., an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, was sponsored by the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform. Both the institute and the center are openly pro-life. Harvey also teaches political science at Tarleton State University in Texas.

A Split Movement

The study was conducted using postcards with graphic images of abortion victims distributed at mailboxes across an entire zip code and before and after phone surveys. “Most of the items were statistically significant,” Harvey told The Stream, explaining that term means that the study “rules out the possibility that the random sample interviewed the second time just ‘happened’ to be more pro-life.”

Harvey noted that the pro-life movement has long been split on whether graphic images of abortion victims sway minds in a positive way. The respondents “indicated that the change they reported was due to the images,” she said, adding that “this confirms that the images were responsible for the change.”

“The graphic images are powerful and effective,” Human Life Review’s Ifeoma Anunkor told The Stream. “I attended the National Sidewalk Counseling Symposium in August. During a training session, a leading sidewalk counselor shared that in order to make the ideal pamphlet for abortion-minded women, she asked the abortion-minded women themselves, what pictures made them change their minds about abortion. The majority of the women said the picture of an aborted fetus.”

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, however, was more critical. “This study does not look at the effectiveness of graphic imagery in front of abortion facilities, which is where I do not support their use,” she explained in an e-mail to The Stream.

In my experience, and the experiences of almost 300 former abortion workers, we find them to be counterproductive in front of abortion facilities. They appear threatening and only present the abortion facility as a safe haven from the protestors outside. The majority of women who have abortions have already had children. They aren’t having an abortion because they think it’s a “mass of cells.” They are having an abortion because they lack resources or support.

Graphic images have been effectively used in other human rights campaigns, such as when fighting to end slavery in the United States. However, some pro-life advocates say showing images to children is inappropriate, and that post-abortive women could face PTSD and other issues when seeing the images.

According to Johnson, “I believe we should obtain consent before ever showing any graphic material. I do not oppose people using graphic imagery in some situations, but only where the person using the images has gained consent to show them.”

Though the debate within the pro-life movement over the wisdom of using such images will continue, the study establishes that they do move people to become more pro-life and less supportive of abortion. Indeed, the study found that people who identified as “liberal” shifted more in favor of life than conservatives.

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