Atrocity is easily seen in pictures

By Helen Westover



(Wednesday, January 23, 2002)

On Jan. 22, 2001, I was arrested for holding a photo, not an ''image,'' as the Poughkeepsie Journal insisted, of an aborted child. After much chicanery, false charges and a colossal waste of taxpayer funds, charges were dropped, and the Town of Poughkeepsie offered to settle for a generous sum of money.

I held this photo of a real little boy, Malachi - Though he is dead he still speaks. aborted by saline infusion at 21 weeks. He was found, with hundreds of other little bodies, in a trash bin in Texas.

We are a visual society. Pictorial evidence of atrocity moves us like nothing else.

I learned this at age 9 watching television one boring summer day with my friend Meg. We stumbled on an account of the Nuremberg trials, the court proceedings against those responsible for the murder of millions of Jews during World War II.

We saw the camps, the dead stacked like wood, the children, the old people.

Meg's family was mixed, Protestant-Jewish, and she had been confused about her identity. But, watching, in tears, she whispered, ''Those are my people.'' I was privileged to witness the birth of a Jew.

At the same time, though I didn't know the word, I became a Zionist. And an activist.

Scenes of the plight of migrant farm workers led me to organize boycotts of grapes and lettuce in Peekskill. The pictures of napalmed children turned me against the Vietnam War. Then, the bones in the ''killing fields'' of Cambodia, the ''stick children'' of Africa -- all these pictures of suffering woke up the world, as the media did their job of exposing such horrors.

The sight of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center roused the entire country, uniting us in purpose and determination.

Abortion has become an abstract concept and a political ''issue.'' In this one case, the media have refused to show the public what it is, so horrific a human rights abuse that words alone can never convey its reality.

So Mid-Hudson Stop Planned Parenthood, or STOPP, and others have moved in to fill this gap. This little boy, who was named Malachi (meaning ''witness'') by pro-life leaders, is the face of ''choice.''

Responses vary -- from ''I didn't know!'' to ''That's disgusting!'' Or folks come over to talk. Or they spit and throw bottles. But, after seeing this little kid, people are moved.

We have cut through the ''choicespeak'' and simply offer into evidence the victim.

For the media, it has been so vital to keep this evidence in darkness that even pictures of living fetuses have been taboo. A case in point: Life magazine published a picture of a fetus, or rather as his doctor called him, a ''patient'' who, after surgery, stuck his tiny hand out of the mom's womb. The photo is of the doctor holding his hand. Matt Drudge tried to do a piece on Fox News on fetal medicine, and tried to show that picture, which had no connection with the issue of abortion. He was fired.

We will continue to allow Malachai and his brothers and sisters a voice -- and seek justice for them.

Helen Westover of Poughkeepsie, NY,  is director of Mid-Hudson Stop Planned Parenthood.

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