Aborted fetuses on trial in Colorado

One way defenders of the unborn attempt to dissuade people from being pro-choice is by holding up signs with images of aborted fetuses on them. They believe the more people are exposed to the sheer brutality of abortion, the likelier it is they will embrace the pro-life perspective.

Unfortunately, pro-life advocates in Colorado may not have the chance to do that if the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn a Colorado state court decree that bars individuals in Denver from “displaying large posters or similar displays depicting gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies.”

According to a March 6th news release from the Thomas More Society, a group of pro-life advocates held up “gruesome images” of aborted fetuses across the street from an outdoor Palm Sunday service at Denver’s St. John’s Cathedral several years ago when they learned the church no longer held pro-life views.

The Colorado court system ruled that the individuals can no longer hold up their signs because the state has a compelling interest in disallowing children who may have been attending St. John’s, an Episcopal church, from seeing images of aborted fetuses.

The Thomas More Society is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. The Society’s president and chief counsel Tom Brejcha said:

We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear our appeal and put an end to such persistent efforts by government officials to wield the censor’s scissors to suppress vital pro-life speech.  Photos are anathema to pro-abortion advocates because they expose the grim truth that abortion is both repulsive and grisly.  If America insists on abortion rights, it must face up to these ugly results

Although holding up signs with images of aborted fetuses on them can be effective, it is not an uncontroversial issue within the pro-life movement. In fact, National Catholic Register blogger Simcha Fisher urged attendees at this year’s March for Life not to bring signs that had images of aborted fetuses on them. In her column, Simcha argues that when we “use pictures of real babies as a tactic or a tool, we are in danger of forgetting that these are children with an immortal soul.” Souls that deserve “respect.”

At the same time, Simcha says “bloody and shocking images have their place” in the abortion debate because too “many people who are pro-choice” still “don’t know what fetuses actually look like, or what happens to them when they are aborted.” Therefore, people should be exposed to the gruesome reality of abortion, but only as a “weapon of last resort.”

I believe Simcha is correct. Though at times it can be a useful tactic, showing pictures of tattered limbs and bloodied carcasses does have its limits. Seeing the acidized remains of aborted babies, after all, can simply gross some people out and can easily turn them off to the pro-life message entirely.

Simcha concludes her column by arguing that “like any traumatic image, [seeing an aborted fetus] will stay with you.” And seeing those images “once or twice in a lifetime” is probably enough.

Fr Pavone

Fr Pavone

Her sentiments are in alignment with what was said on the same topic by a panel of experts at the Catholic Witness in a Nation Divided conference I attended in Ypsilanti, Michigan earlier this year.

Catholic Vote contributor Michael New, Ave Maria Radio’s Teresa Tomeo, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society Dr. Monica Miller, and national director of Priests for Life Fr. Frank Pavone participated in a discussion on pro-life issues at the conference. When the issue of aborted fetuses came up, all of them expressed their support for using graphic images to make sure people know the truth about abortion. They cautioned pro-lifers about using them too much, but Fr. Pavone summed up their collective voice best when he said pro-life advocates must continue to use those types of posters because images are very powerful and can compel us to change our views.

In an interview with Catholic columnist Matt Abbott, Fr. Pavone shared his thoughts on the Thomas More case in Colorado:

It doesn’t take years of law school to see the unconstitutional nature of this Colorado decree, especially given the fact that free speech is protected precisely because the speaker often needs protection from those who will try to shut down his message because it is disturbing.

The need to disturb the public with graphic images of abortion, furthermore, is simply another incarnation of a longstanding history of social reform in which reformers have disturbed the public with images of slaves in the slave ships, or children in sordid working conditions in mines and factories, or holocaust victims, or the damage smoking does to the lungs, or the disastrous results of drunk driving. The list goes on and on. One cannot rationally ban ‘gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies’ without striking a blow against the entire history of social reform.

I don’t always agree with Fr. Pavone, but I see nothing wrong in this statement. Nor do I see anything inherently wrong with holding up signs with images of aborted fetuses on them. What I think is wrong is when judges intentionally suppress the freedoms of those who disagree with them on abortion. I believe this is one of those instances.


Categories:Abortion Culture

  • Rich Ketter

    Of course a campaign based on hatred would want to use pictures of blood and death.
    If there was real Life in this part of the “prolife”movement, they may have better things to do that try to use the photos of fetuses so they don’t really have to look into the hearts and minds of the other. They justify their hard heartedness in the same way that those who deny any harm in abortion. In essence, they have become thier enemy without respect for the true dignity of life.

  • bill

    when i in grade school (i am 50 years old), we were shown the documetnary Night and the Fog. A movie with images of jews in concentration camps – some dead some alive. Some being shot, some being pushed into massive graves with bulldozers. There is no denying the horrible attrocities inflicted upon those people. The same goes for these gruesome images of aborted babies. There is no denying those are babies and we are killing them.

  • ron morrison

    It seems to me that if you consider a fetus a human being that holding up these images to the public is not upholding the fetus in any way. If my child was run over and mutilated by a drunk driver, I would not use an image of my child’s mutilated body to convince people not to drink and drive. Just my thoughts.

    • Joe M

      Ron. I imagine you might reconsider if the law held that your child was not a person and that there was nothing wrong with him being killed by a drunk driver.

    • Chris

      Maybe you would if the drunk driver who killed your kid was denying that anyone died, denying your kid was a human being, and was going to continue doing it.

    • Tyler

      I think the general position held is sort of a question of “do the ends justify the means?” In other words, is holding up posters of aborted fetuses actually winning over anyone? I have no statistics to go on for that, and as Mr. Kokx points out it’s sort of a debate within the pro-life movement.
      However, one must concede that the use of real life (albeit grotesque) imagery can sometimes open our eyes to things we do not otherwise fully comprehend.
      This is indeed why people who have gone through first hand the loss of someone battling HIV or Cancer will get involved in those research movements afterward.
      The movie “The Passion of the Christ,” for another example, brings to life the sufferings of our Lord on the road to Calvary in a way our imaginations are unfortunately not always capable of doing. Why do most people say they will only watch that movie once? Because it causes them to realize a level of guilt for their sins they would otherwise choose to hide/ignore.
      News stations often put pictures of dead bodies from war zones, etc. and no one complains about that. Commercials asking for help with relief for starving children in Africa the same way.

      It would seem to me that the main reason for having a knee jerk reaction to the use of these photos is due to the fact that those opposed would like to otherwise pretend it doesn’t happen/exist.

      Pax Christi



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