To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, ‘rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6)
from Caritas in Veritate by Benedict XVI
Graphic Images - Charity, Truth and the Bloody Sacrifice.
There are many weapons in the arsenal of a pro-life Catholic. For spiritual weapons, we have Holy Mass, the Rosary, our many beautiful litanies and novenas. We have Scripture - the ‘sword of the Spirit.’ We have sacramentals, such as blessed medals and scapulars.
Thus armed, we start to learn pro-life apologetics - the arguments of the pro-life position, and hopefully also the Church’s teaching on life issues, which is one of the reasons this website was started.
Alongside our education, we pray to discern the mission-field God has chosen for us personally; our specific pro-life vocation: whether that be outside abortuaries, in politics, in schools, in the home or in the digital world.
But where do graphic images of abortion victims fit into this storehouse? Do they have a place at all? I believe they do; in fact, I believe those disturbing images are essential in pro-life work and that the precedent for their use was given by Our Lord Himself.
Abortion as Sacrifice
We often hear the term that unborn babies are sacrificed on the altar of convenience, conveying the notion that one good, in this case, a child, has been sacrificed for the benefit of another good - in this case, the perceived best interests of a mother. We naturally think of abortion in terms of a sacrifice, and even many abortion advocates would not argue with this.
A second aspect of the sacrificial nature of abortion is the historical idea of appeasing a god with a blood-sacrifice, such as those made to the pagan god, Moloch and to the gods of the ancient Aztecs. As Christians who know there is but one God alone, we believe that all these foreign gods represent the prince of darkness himself, Satan, and that he gains power through the blood of his sacrificial victims, including that of the 125,000 children sacrificed to him daily through abortion.
And so abortion can be seen as a bloody sacrifice, whose horrific nature its advocates want to keep hidden from the world at large, and particularly from the abortion-minded women who struggle to make a ‘difficult decision’ in their time of crisis.
As Catholics, we have the unequalled privilege of being able to participate in the unbloody sacrifice of our Lord Jesus: Holy Mass.
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.”
“And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1367
The Eucharist points to Christ’s original sacrifice on the Cross; to His bloody, violent death; its supernatural aspect is the re-creation of the Paschal Mystery, (which Catholics acknowledge) and its natural aspect is the reminder, the remembrance, (which other Christians also recognize.)
The Natural Aspect: Images as Reminders
This brings me to my main point: abortion debate, rhetoric, statistics and even the word “abortion” itself, point to the actual and violent death of children. We can learn the arguments, pray, lecture and dialogue, but that can never allow us to stray from the reality of the horror of abortion. Abortion must always be for us much, much more than an abstract ‘sin’, more than a terrible thing. Its bloody violence must always be somewhere in our minds, just as the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice is always conscious to us.
And that is where graphic images come in.
Jesus himself left us with mementoes of His bloody sacrifice - with graphic images, such as the image of His face on Veronica’s veil and the impression of His whole body, on the Shroud of Turin. The Church sanctioned the use of paintings and sculptures and life-size crucifixes so as to never diminish in our frail human minds to enormity of Jesus’ suffering on the Cross. Without Jesus’ ‘graphic images’, our comprehension of the Paschal mystery would be incomplete.
And without the use of photographs of tortured, bloody, dismembered children, the truly hideous nature of abortion cannot be revealed.
Below are some images from Jill Stanek’s website of a recent counter-protest in Columbia, Ohio, where members of two pro-life groups displayed bloody images behind representatives from Planned Parenthood - the largest abortion provider in the US.
Also present was Nancy Pelosi, the (Catholic) Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, and a notoriously outspoken abortion advocate.
Jesus also left us with a recommendation for the extent of the use of these images: they are not meant to be used indiscriminately or routinely.
By hiding the disfigured and bloody image of Himself behind the veil of the pure white Host, Jesus indicated that we are not meant to dwell solely, morbidly on the blood and violence of His Sacrifice, but to meditate on the myriad other aspects of the Paschal Mystery.
Just as we wouldn’t watch the Passion of the Christ daily to learn more about Christ, graphic images of abortion victims are but one educational tool to be brought into the public arena at the appropriate time.
The Supernatural Aspect: The Belt of Truth.
Finally, I believe there is a supernatural aspect to using actual photographs of abortion victims:
Because they speak the truth as no other image can.
They tell the whole story of a tiny person’s life at a glance.
He was conceived, deemed expendable, condemned to die, and then executed shamefully.
One single image sums up that life cut short by abortion.
Those who pray Ephesians 6 frequently will be familiar with the armor with which the Christian is meant to be dressed: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the equipment of the gospel of peace for shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.
(Ephesians 6: 10-20)
Do we dare go into supernatural combat without our complete armor?
Do we dare to omit the belt of truth from our battle array?
Graphic images of abortion victims ARE TRUTH.
Do we dare oppose evil without them?