Last week The Guardian published an article by Poppy Noor entitled ‘What a pregnancy actually looks like at 10 weeks – in pictures’. The article is ostensibly about debunking misleading pro-life claims – yet it itself is, well, seriously misleading. Just to be clear, we are not saying that Noor or The Guardian set out to misinform their readers; but this, regrettably, has been the result. Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life has written an excellent blog post about why this is so – we recommend reading it. Essentially, the Guardian article exemplifies a problem which would seem to be widespread within the pro-choice movement: reluctance to acknowledge established facts about foetal development.
The photos used to illustrate the article are not from an embryology textbook but from the MYA Network, an organisation of pro-choice clinicians (MYA is short for My Abortion). Dr Joan Fleischman of the MYA Network is quoted in the article as saying: ‘A lot of early pregnancy images are driven by people who are against abortion and feel hat life begins at conception, or by prenatal enthusiasts who want women to be excited by their pregnancy. What about people who aren’t?’ Dr Fleischman doesn’t go so far as to say that such images are bogus but instead says she seeks to show people what ‘early pregnancy tissue’ ‘actually looks like’.
Another member of the MYA Network, Dr Michele Gomez, is also quoted: ‘We’re just putting out the information and the facts to counter the misinformation. To say: this is not something that’s scary, or dangerous, or violent. It’s just a picture of something that’s in your body.’ That would be well and good if it were true – but it simply isn’t. As Monica Snyder points out:
[…] MYA Network’s photos are non-descript (and artificially monochromatic) blobs of tissue. The network explains they rinse off the blood and menstrual lining before photographing the tissue. They do not explain that abortion procedures can destroy embryos beyond recognition. Ms. Noor and Dr. Fleischman instead imply we can’t see the aborted embryos because they are simply too small.
One of the photos featured in the article ‘shows the gestational sac of a nine-week pregnancy. This is everything that would be removed during an abortion and includes the nascent embryo, which is not easily discernible to the naked eye’. But as Snyder points out, an embryo at that stage of development would be 1.3 to 1.7 cm – i.e. clearly discernible to the naked eye.
As Snyder puts it, ‘It’d be difficult for me to find a clearer example of how abortion rights rely on miseducation.’
The Guardian is a reputable newspaper. They are open about their pro-choice position but they also have a stated belief in ‘quality, truthful news’. Now that Secular Pro-Life have helpfully pointed out the flaws in the article, it is incumbent upon The Guardian to correct it. Let’s hope that they do.
I thought I’d offer a partial counterpoint of sorts, namely pro-choicers that not only acknowledge actual fetal development, but that actually share images of their own pill abortions. https://www.reddit.com/r/prochoice/comments/y9zp6y/pictures_of_pregnancy_date_of_conception_45_or_46/ is the exact same sort of image that as pro-lifers we like to share, and was posted directly in response to the MYA network’s misinformation. The more startling thing is that the post got a lot of upvotes, and wasn’t taken down either- with the abortion provider on their mod team confirming that it was in fact an accurate image (and massive credit to their mod team for getting to the bottom of why it didn’t match up with the Guardian article). And while the above is perhaps the most striking example, I was pleased to see when the Guardian article was shared on the larger subreddits that large numbers of pro-choicers did call it out, and got decent numbers of upvotes for doing so, which makes me think it’s not as uncommon for pro-choicers to acknowledge fetal development as we often like to pretend it is (obviously it’s common misinformation, just not as universal as we sometimes act like it is).
Relatedly, graphic image warning and all that, but some external polling by a Canadian pro-life group does suggest showing graphic abortion images really does shift people to pro-life https://www.endthekilling.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/AVP_StatisticalAnalysis.pdf, which really leaves me confused about why it’s not working on these pro-choicers. (I’d be interested as a comparison point to know if showing graphic images of say, Taliban fighters killed by direct military intervention made people much less keen on it or not, to try and get a better understanding of perception of innocence is the factor changing people’s minds or not.)
This all said, two things that seem weird to me are both that there were a fair number of pro-choicers in the comments despite seeing the article still didn’t seem to think of a fetus as really being fully human, and that looking more broadly at what I’ve seen on Reddit, there are a non-zero number of pro-choicers that do genuinely grant fetal personhood but who don’t think abortion a violation of the right to life (usually via a self-defence argument, or right to refuse, and sometimes thinking that nonconsentual pregnancy is the same as rape).