Do You Know What An Abortion Looks Like?

Kate Pasola discusses how one female photographer set about putting a stop to the sensationalism of unborn foetuses, and why we need to talk about being pro-choice.

Feature by Kate Pasola | 01 Sep 2012

Of late, I have found myself increasingly in a situation to which all enthusiastic internetters might relate. Picture the scene, if you will. It usually occurs in the early hours of the morning, when a responsible human would instead be already carrying out some serious REM cycles. For whatever reason, at 2am, you’re at the peculiar end of the internet. Ordinarily, I’ll end up dry-eyeballed and achey-necked in avid observation of bizarre viral videos. Though agreeably hilarious, such videos are rarely enlightening, and it came to a point last week where I felt compelled to kick this habit, for the sake of both my sleep-patterns and sanity. Until I came across

A poignant discovery, the website documents an American photographer’s abortion at the point of six weeks. Sounds rather graphic, perhaps? You wouldn’t be the first to jump to such a conclusion, I too felt rather apprehensive as the page loaded. Yet, I was instead surprised by a set of simple photographs, displaying the standard medical equipment involved for an abortion at that stage of pregnancy and a glass beaker containing the result of the process, which looks like few centilitres of red fluid. I don’t know what I expected to see – perhaps something derived from the sensationalist images of foetuses which seem a firm favourite with pro-life protesters? But the photos didn’t match up. And that’s exactly why the author of the website posted the photographs; not to shock, but to dispel myths and educate.

To terminate a pregnancy might be one of the most important decisions a woman may have to face. Individual cases will obviously be very different, especially taking into consideration aspects like the stage of the pregnancy, but generally we don’t know much at all about the experience until we’re in the position where it affects us directly. The topic is otherwise hardly discussed, and that’s worrying.

Our culture isn’t all that keen on women who talk about sex openly. Women have sex. Some women have lots of sex. Wherever there’s sex, there’s usually contraception (unless decidedly or unfortunately otherwise). Just search ‘contraception’ on Google-images. Aside from comical-looking condoms in sunglasses waving emphatically and an unexpected picture of Obama, you’ll see a cornucopia of choice. There are over ten different types of contraception, each gorgeously suited to different lifestyles, preferences and circumstances. It’s come a long way since Casanova dismissed lamb-intestine condoms in favour of ‘linen tied with a ribbon’. 

If a woman were to discuss these contraceptive choices as freely and publicly as, for instance, the most convenient method of transport to work, just imagine the carnage that would surely follow. It’s only just acceptable to mention your period and even then, it is much preferred that one refers to such a subject in euphemistic terms only. To discuss these eerily taboo subjects is simply not worth the arched eyebrows and trembling tea-saucers. Women who talk openly about contraception and admit to having regular sex are at risk of falling into society’s little category of ‘slut’. Yet those who don’t converse about the topic, and thus educate and protect themselves inadequately, fall to exactly the same fate. Because we mustn’t discuss abortion either.

It’s pretty much lose-lose. Whatever they’re saying - if it’s about sex – it’s just more comfortable for everyone if they keep it to themselves. This ideology needs to stop, because the worst-hit areas for unplanned pregnancy are deprived places with less access to education on topics such as these.

The solution? A little more conversation. But no less action. Let’s just open our gobs and talk about stuff – that way we won’t neglect conversations which could be life-changing for a person. Despite sounding like Samantha Jones smirking into a cosmopolitan, I implore everyone to get the ball rolling. When women start talking, and refusing to be shamed, we’ll all benefit. And for the love of all that is decent do not take heed of any advice Casanova offers regarding condoms.