Where do anti-abortion protesters get those grisly photos?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 26 2010 4:40 PM

Mommy, Where Do Pictures of Aborted Babies Come From?

Where do anti-abortion protesters get those grisly photos?

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Anti-abortion protestors hold placards as they demonstrate near the Senate office buildings. 

Aaron Gouveia, a Massachusetts reporter, posted a video this week of his confrontation with anti-abortion protesters, who taunted his wife with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. Aborted fetus pictures are also in the news in Washington, D.C., where long-shot congressional candidate Missy Reilly Smith is forcing local TV networks to air graphic anti-abortion campaign ads. Where do abortion protesters get their fetus pictures?

From dumpsters, among other places. For many years, a Madonna University professor named Monica Migliorino Miller supplied the anti-abortion movement with its imagery. As detailed by Damien Cave of the New York Times in 2009, Miller has recovered thousands of fetuses that were improperly disposed of from dumpsters outside of Midwestern health care facilities. She began photographing the fetuses in 1987.

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In the late 1990s, a second major source emerged. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform has compiled an extensive library of pictures and videos of fetuses and abortion procedures. (Note: some of the links in this article contain graphic images.) The center pays doctors and clinics to permit a contract photographer to enter the operating room and document the abortion. Selling access to an operating room is unheard of in the United States, so it's very likely that the center's images were all taken abroad. The center won't say whether it obtains the patients' consent to snap pictures.

The center distributes most of its high-resolution images to anti-abortion institutions like crisis pregnancy centers, but street protesters can order them as well. They just have to condemn violence as a tactic, agree not to alter the image, and pay between $3 and $89 to cover printing costs. (Digital images are free, and the center sometimes waives the fee upon request.) The most expensive version is 92 inches wide, 42 inches tall, and printed with weatherproof ink. Protesters have to provide their own stick for mounting. Many of the images include coins to indicate the size of the fetus, and versions with Canadian currency are available for Canuck protesters.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Don Cooper of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform and Angela Dinh of the American Health Information Management Association.

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Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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