Let’s Talk About Graphic Pictures
Theresa Burke, PhD, LPC
J. Kevin Burke, MSS/LSW
Graphic images of aborted children present disturbing, yet factual
documentation of what abortion does to a baby. They constitute a growing
tactic of the pro-life movement that seeks to proclaim the truth about abortion
through visual images of dismembered babies. These real pictures of
aborted children have tremendous value in documenting why the pro-life movement
is against abortion. It dispels the myth that these fetuses are merely a
blob of tissue because the viewer sees fully formed, tiny children completely
ripped apart… bloody…. broken… their tiny bodies desecrated. For the
passive, uninvolved viewer, they are scenes of disturbing injustice and to some,
may present an urgent call to action and activism.
Nevertheless, pictures and images of aborted unborn children cause strong
reactions in those that view them. They point in an equally powerful way,
to the divisions in our society between those that support abortion rights and
those fighting to end abortion. The greater majority of the public is
uncomfortable with abortion on demand, but often equally confused or ambivalent
about these images, and what should be done to limit abortion.
I (Theresa) recall my own experience as a teenager watching “The Hard Truth.”
Never in my life had I been so convinced that abortion was truly an act of
violence and horror. The images cut through the rhetoric of choice and
obliterated the euphemisms that protect us from the full realization of what
abortion is all about. I was stunned, and filled with grief that human
life could be discarded in such a massive, sanitized and legalized injustice.
Graphic pictures make it perfectly clear that abortion is a violation of human
rights. I believe those images were very influential in my personal
convictions and represented a profound motivation and call to be involved in the
pro-life movement through a direct response to this social evil.
However my vocation in the
pro-life movement did not lead me to protest or other forms of activism.
My calling was to be with those involved in abortion, especially the mothers and
fathers of these aborted children who also carried deep wounds from their
involvement in the abortion of their unborn. I soon found that many women
feel trapped, alone in their pregnancy and often experienced manipulation and
pressure from partners, family and health care providers to abort their child.
founders of the Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreats for Healing after abortion we
have journeyed with hundreds of women and men into and through the wreckage of
their shattered emotional and spiritual lives following abortion. We see
this as another type of “graphic image” of abortion’s aftermath in the soul of
the post abortive person.
Our ministry is focused on helping to disinfect the deep wounds inflicted by
abortion and all the ugly lamentable after effects, by safely and gently opening
this wound to the love and light of Jesus
Christ. We recognize the life long memorials of destruction
that are built to act out a secret inner pain and heart wrenching grief.
On Saturday morning of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat participants share the
story of their abortion experience and how it affected their lives. As the
healing process unfolds participants move from the graphic images of grief, pain
and disconnection from their aborted, abandoned child… to encountering their
child whole, happy and with the Lord. This very real image, this powerful
reality is an essential aspect of their healing and recovery from post abortion
trauma. In the healing process both the graphic image of their aborted
child, and the graphic wound that festered in their heart, is brought to the
light of Christ, cleansed and healed.
Those of us in this ministry have stood in awe at the sacred moment, when the
soul speaks its agony to God in a desperate search for reconciliation, and have
witnessed the power of the cross… the power of forgiveness and resurrection.
So we address this issue as both persons who embrace the efforts of the
pro-life movement to end abortion, and in our primary vocation, as leaders in
post abortion ministry.
Many courageous persons have been called to the front lines of the struggle
to end abortion; using the most effective means they feel will stop abortion,
including the legislative and political arena. We are still learning as a
movement what are the most effective means to stop abortion, save the lives of
the babies, and reach out in love to those involved in abortion. More
recently, we have seen the effectiveness of ultra sound technology in crisis
pregnancy centers. We know the spiritual value of a prayerful presence at
the abortion center. There are other forms of non-violent protest
including the use of graphic images. Graphic images are seen by some as a
final effort at the abortion center to turn the heart of a parent set on
aborting their child. Others believe that presenting images of natural
fetal development are a better route. Some activists will use both graphic
images and whole fetal images.
We are a nation that has become anesthetized to the reality of “choice”.
Proponents of graphic images see themselves in very much the same tradition of
other social justice pioneers such as those that worked to end slavery, and
racial discrimination. The use of images demonstrating racially motivated
violence toward African Americans was a powerful tool in the civil rights
movement of the 60’s. We also see graphic images increasingly used to
bring awareness to the present crimes against humanity in other parts of the
There is debate in the pro-life movement as to the proper use of the images
of aborted babies. On one hand, some people reject the use of graphic
pictures. They feel that the pictures are extreme and desperate.
Some favor a more restricted use that would protect children from seeing them.
Others support a more widespread use, bringing the truth of abortions aftermath
to the public arena without restriction.
As we began to have our own children we made the decision that we would not
take our youngest children to any pro life events that we knew would have
graphic images on display. We wanted to avoid exposing our toddlers’
tender and precious hearts to these traumatic images of death and destruction
even though we knew that these images represented the truth. Parents have
different opinions on when the best time is to allow their children to view such
images and of course we must respect their judgment. Once our children
reached an age where they could understand and process the images we were able
to attend these events as a family. Our nation has embraced this
destruction targeted against the child and few people think about what it really
means. We want our children as they grow to understand and see the
reality of abortion’s affect on the unborn as well as the need for healing of
all who participate in abortion. We see it this as an essential aspect of
the formation of our children as God calls them to respond to this social evil.
Years later, I still cringe when I am present at a pro-life demonstration
that displays graphic pictures of bloody and broken babies. NO ONE likes
to view these pictures – especially those pro-lifers who believe that human life
is sacred. It’s a natural nausea that comes upon all of us when the
gruesome reality of abortion is “in our face.”
It is important that we respectfully dialogue about this issue in the
pro-life movement and in our churches. Not with reactivity invested in
protecting our own point of view, but with an openness to hear the impact and
concerns on the various sides of the debate.
Is it possible to use these pictures with discretion? Is it possible to
use them responsibly? Can they be used in a way that gives warning to
unsuspecting individuals who might be passing by? Many women
have reported that the pictures dissuade them from having an abortion – Yet
others share that the way the truth is presented hardens their hearts even more
and intensifies their anger.
I (Theresa) remember being in Chicago giving a full day seminar on post
abortion trauma and healing. Joe Scheidler, a pro-life champion with a
30-year legacy of activism on behalf of the unborn, was present at the training.
Someone in the audience asked my opinion regarding graphic images. When I
shared the negative impact they can have with persons who have been traumatized
by abortion, Joe Scheidler responded with determined emotion: “I don’t
care what anyone ever tells me… I will NEVER stop using these pictures. If
these pictures stop ONE WOMAN from entering an abortion clinic and having to
spend years dealing with all the things you have been teaching today, then the
pictures are worth it. They will save her from years of living hell.
We want to save her from ever having to go on a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend!”
As I considered Joe’s words I realized he had a valid point. While we want to
protect women who’ve been victims of abortion, we also want to prevent other
women from becoming one of these sad statistics, not to mention, helping her to
protect her child from this concealed violence. I invited Joe up to the
podium to share with our audience how he had experienced the use of pictures.
Because you never know who has experienced an abortion or been directly or
indirectly involved with one in the public arena, protecting the psychological
integrity of each sensitive human soul who carries the burden of destroying
human life, can be a difficult and challenging task.
There are good reasons why these pictures are not used in post abortion
healing programs. The images can be quite disturbing to many mothers and
fathers, aunts or uncles who have suffered the loss of a little one to abortion.
They are also troubling to the grandparents who may have taken their pregnant
daughter to have an abortion. These images of abortion’s shocking reality
do have potential to trigger traumatic experiences, memories and perceptions.
However, keep in mind that the sight of a pregnant woman, or an ultrasound,
or the cry of a newborn can also trigger memories and painful feelings related
to abortion. Its important to remember that these everyday reminders are
also capable of resurrecting nauseating memories of trauma for a woman who has
lost a child in an abortion.
Conversely, the vivid truth spoken through a photograph that can resurrect
trauma can also break denial. One teenager writes the following letter
about pictures she saw on the Priests for Life website
I am 16 years old and I was once pregnant. I had an abortion and now I am
terribly sorry. The graphic pictures truly blew my mind. I thought, "Who in
their right mind would ever do something like this?" Then I thought again ...me.
Tears began to swell in my eyes. I am deeply sorry for the sin I have committed.
I hope God forgives me. I was 3 months pregnant and I saw the children about
that age in the pictures. I wish I found your website sooner. I will be sure to
recommend your website to any girl thinking about abortion.”
When trauma is activated, it’s common to bring forth our normal defenses,
anger, rage, justification, and denial -- to protect us from the truth, which
may be too painful to deal with. Our psychological defenses serve to
protect us from the reality of such horror. We may find it easier to vilify and
scapegoat the pro-lifer who holds out the image for our consumption than to face
the graphic image of complicated grief and shame buried deep within our hearts.
Those that zealously defend abortion rights often respond to graphic images
like a culture of eating disordered bulimics; they simply throw up and out what
they refuse to digest. There is no limit to our capacity to blot out
truth in favor of that which protects our self-image. Because
of the trauma driven zeal invested in protecting abortion rights, we have
progressed to the point where the Supreme Court has discerned that it is legal
to deliver a fully formed infant, feet first, stab it in the back of the skull
and then suck out her brains till the head collapses to insure that the infant
is truly born dead. Our moral consciences have truly been devastated by
what has been called “the culture of death.” The hard truth, no matter how
graphic; can be filtered through the conscious mind like automatically deleted
In the meantime, millions of women and men continue to suffer. The
higher rates of suicide among post-aborted women have been definitively
demonstrated by several record based studies. Researchers in Finland,
after examining records for all Finnish women of reproductive age over a seven
year period, discovered that women who aborted were seven times more likely to
commit suicide in the subsequent year compared to women who carried to term.
Aborting women were four times more likely to die from injuries related to
accidents, which may actually have been suicide attempts or at least suicidal
A similar study that examined records for 150,000 California women eligible
for Medicaid found that the aborting women were over three times more likely
than delivering women to commit suicide within eight years of their abortion.
In another significant study involving 173,279 low-income women found that
death rates following abortion remained elevated for at least eight years.
Compared to women who delivered, those who aborted were 154% more likely to die
from suicides, and 82% more likely to die from accidents. The higher
suicide rates were most pronounced in the first four years following abortion.
Because of this documented reality of suicide risk, we need to address issues
that can aggravate the suicidal impulses of post-aborted women. Graphic images
alone do not convey our concern for a mother or father who has lost a child
through abortion. Without a message of mercy, the truth alone may continue
to polarize us from those whose hearts we seek to convert. If we are a
people who seek to affirm and protect life, the language and images used to
convey our message must be communication that also invites healing and recovery.
Our efforts should dismantle the lies with the truth, but the truth must be
rooted in love and compassion.
Do graphic images cause additional judgment and disgust with those who have
been involved with abortion, rather than fostering an attitude of compassion and
respect? As one viewer of graphic images writes: “I have seen the pictures,
I cried. I have three beautiful children and would give anything for them. Who
ever can kill their baby by abortion or any kind of way is a very sick person. I
am against abortions. Keep up the good work and letting people know that it is
It is not enough to show that abortion is wrong. It’s important to help
our society understand why women and men chose abortion in the first place.
Condemnation of the woman does nothing to address or consider the pressure from
others, outright coercion, and dire circumstances which lead many women to
believe that abortion was her only option. In addition we also fail to
acknowledge the connection between repeat abortions (nearly half of all
abortions are repeat procedures) and unhealed abortion trauma (see Forbidden
Grief-The Unspoken Pain of Abortion by Theresa Burke with David Reardon
www.rachelsvineyard.org). Without healing, persons that experience
trauma often repeat themes and behaviors associated with the traumatic event in
an attempt to “master” the deep pain associated with their initial abortion
loss. This leads many unhealed woman to find themselves once again in an
unplanned pregnancy and making the same tragic decision to abort their unborn
Knowing the importance of healing of the women and men involved in abortion,
and the many years lost because of obstacles that prevent recovery, we need to
recognize that one of the primary hindrances is when post-aborted women and men
is a deep sense of shame and fear of judgment. If the message
is too threatening, people will instinctively withdrawal from healing and feel
only despair and condemnation. For this reason, denial should ideally be
broken within the context of a very loving, gentle, trusting environment, where
the person can face the agonizing truth braced against numerous and repeated
assurances of God’s mercy and capacity to forgive such destruction. People do
not surrender their defenses unless they think it is safe - no matter how much
pain they are in. We have a responsibility to foster environments that are
free from judgment, condemnation, and point to the mercy and compassion of
This is an essential challenge because there truly is a great risk to the
lives and souls of those who have been involved with abortion. Any
education done in presenting the reality of abortion must ALWAYS be presented
with an invitation to healing and the promise of Gods mercy.... not just a side
mention of it, but a real commitment to journey with the individual to help them
find freedom and healing.
The post-aborted person who has suffered the reality of abortion and comes to
repentance can indeed become one of the greatest advocates of life. Lets
help women and men to heal so they can speak the truth by telling their stories
- in a way that can’t be argued with or ignored. Silent No More is a
shining example of the power of women and men healed of their abortion loss and
free to speak the truth in a way that opens hearts and that people can identify
We have found the pro-life movement to be very supportive and generous to the
many ministries like our own involved in post abortion healing (Rachel’s
Vineyard and Silent No More are both Ministries of Priests For Life). Post
abortion ministries can be seen as the MASH units in the pro-life movement.
We work behind the lines, offering a safe, loving, secure place to find hope,
healing, and reconciliation. Those in this work have a unique role and
often feel a singular vocation to the post abortive person. They often
support the larger efforts of the pro-life community, but feel a special
responsibility to ensure the emotional and spiritual safety and develop the
trust necessary for wounded persons to step forward to grieve and find healing.
You will often find a deep sensitivity here to the use of these images and their
impact upon the post abortive person.
We are still learning as a movement what strategies will work best in the
long run. We must be careful not to tear down our fellow pro-life
brethren who are involved in various fronts of this struggle. We may
disagree with certain strategy, and it is important for our leadership to come
together and respectfully explore these differences. However we must avoid
the temptation to divide and polarize those with different responses to the
horror of abortion. We must work together to dismantle the ignorance and
denial that perpetrates this violence upon Parents and their unborn children.
Finally, all of us involved in the pro-life movement must address our own
need for healing. It’s not unusual to feel a lot of grief after a 30-year
history of abortion on demand with the knowledge that millions of children have
been lost. Our grief can be held captive, turning to anger and rage.
In our own pain, we want our fellow friends, family and fellow citizens to share
our outrage and grief…and struggle when we find indifference, detachment and at
times hostility to our efforts. Over time this can leave us feeling
numb, frustrated and angry, isolated by a prevailing culture of denial and lies.
The truth of abortion is extremely distasteful and the industry flourishes
because of denial. Those who confront this denial will always be
marginalized. It is all the more important that we find in the pro life
movement communities of prayerful support, reaching out to one another with love
and healing. It is out of this foundation of love that we can engage our
culture and all those involved in abortion, and offer both the truth of
abortion’s reality, and the truth of God’s healing and forgiveness.
For those that use graphic images in their pro life work, here is a message
you may want to share with those that are angry or upset after viewing these
If you have had an abortion, these images can be deeply disturbing and
arouse very painful feelings. The purpose of these pictures is not to
condemn those that have had abortions. Anyone who has suffered the loss of
a child to abortion can find healing and forgiveness of your pain and grief and
reconciliation with your child.
Please understand that we do not wish to disrespect the tiny bodies of
these aborted children, but through the presentation of the reality of their
deaths, call our country to repentance so that abortion will become an
unthinkable choice. We also pray that these images will lead their parents
and all post abortive persons to seek reconciliation and healing so that they
will not spend years suffering emotional problems, addictions, repeat abortions,
and other self-destructive behaviors that many suffer after their participation
Through these images we seek to love and honor these aborted children,
call our country to repentance, lead parents facing an unplanned pregnancy to
give life to their child, and reach out to those wounded by their participation
in abortion with the good news of healing.
Kevin and Theresa Burke are founders of Rachel’s Vineyard a Ministry of
Priests for life. To find more information on abortion healing, education
and weekend healing retreats go to
www.rachelsvineyard.org or call our hotline 1 877 HOPE 4 ME or email us at Rachel@rachelsvineyard.org
More about Graphic Images