Emer O’Toole: Suggestions for stock photos in abortion articles

Broadside: Rather than the third-trimester stomachs we usually see, let’s use honest pictures – split condoms, pregnancy tests, boats, or a woman looking happy because she’s no longer pregnant

There have been a lot of articles about abortion in the Irish media lately. That’s because, in 2015, Ireland still has some of the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in the world, and it’s an embarrassment and a national disgrace.

Alas, until Irish women gain the reproductive rights available to their sisters throughout the developed, secular world, there will continue to be abortion article upon abortion article upon abortion article in the Irish media.

This is the age of the internet, and thus each abortion article needs an illustration, otherwise nobody would click on it in order to read exactly what they already know: that it’s easy to understand how our parents’ generation packed girls off to Magdalene laundries when we’re still packing girls off to England.

I have noticed a bizarre trend in the pictures chosen for abortion articles: editors seem to enjoy illustrating articles about abortion – a procedure that, 90 per cent of the time, occurs before 14 weeks of pregnancy – with pictures of about-to-pop third-trimester bellies, a stage of pregnancy when abortion is illegal in nearly all circumstances in every country in the world. It’s almost as if the people choosing these photos have no idea that women don’t start to show until 12-16 weeks. It’s almost as if they know nothing at all about the reality of women’s bodies and women’s lives.


Seeing as our 84 per cent male parliament doesn’t give a crap about women’s reproductive rights, we’ll be stuck with abortion article upon abortion article upon abortion article for another while yet (although how many ways writers will be able to come up with to repackage the message that ascribing an embryo and a woman moral equivalence is stupid, misogynistic, and morally wrong, I just don’t know). Clearly, then, editors need alternatives to stock photos intended for maternity magazines – alternatives, perhaps, that direct attention away from the third trimester of pregnancy, when abortions don’t happen, and towards things that women who have abortions actually experience. I have some helpful ideas:

A split condom

A bare-chested man holds a still-slippery sheath of torn latex between his thumb and forefinger. He stares at it, his expression worried but secretive. In the background, there’s the out-of-focus form of a woman lying back on mussed-up bedsheets. She looks relaxed. She is relaxed because she doesn’t know. He doesn’t tell her.

A pregnancy test

A woman leans against the cool tiles of a bathroom wall holding a pregnancy test. Her belly is flat, because she took the test when she missed her period and thus the positive result is down to a differentiating ball of cells approximately the size of a poppy seed. Because this is Ireland and the woman cannot simply go to a local clinic and have an abortifacient pill administered efficiently and safely by a medical professional, her expression is one of horror and distress.

Abortifacient pills

In this photograph, we see a woman staring at her computer screen, reading womenonweb.org, where there are pictures and descriptions of abortifacient pills. She is learning that she can use the pills up to nine weeks if she has no severe health problems. She is frightened at the prospect of taking them without medical supervision. Three weeks later they have not arrived.

A pawn shop

A woman is selling something and crying. She is seven weeks pregnant and feeling sick in the mornings, but we cannot see that in the picture. Her tummy is still flat, as the embryo is only the size of a chickpea. Unlike the woman, it cannot feel or think.

A boat

After all of these sombre photographic illustrations, how about a fun cartoon? A woman is sailing a little boat across the Irish Sea. The sails are two billowing, angry nuns. Wind is issuing forth from the backside of our Taoiseach upon green Erin’s shore. The woman is smiling calmly, ignoring the angry church and stinking government, knowing that her abortion is mere hours away.

An abortion clinic

Women sit in a medical waiting room. They are a variety of races and ages. Some are with a friend or partner. Some are alone. Some read books. Some fill out forms. Some play on their phones. Some look calm. Some look scared.

Another boat

Given the preponderance of boats in Irish women’s experiences of abortion, I feel marine cartoons should be utilised often. How about a rowboat this time? It cuts back across the Irish Sea, powered by 10 women, while another plays coxswain. The coxswain shouts, “C’mon girls, we’ve got to beat yesterday’s team.”

A night in

A woman and her friend sit on a couch together, with patterned blankets over their feet. They eat popcorn and drink wine. The woman holds a hot water bottle to her tummy. She is relieved that she is not pregnant any more.

A future

A woman smiles in her graduation photos. She is not a mother because she doesn’t want to be. She looks like the kind of person who can make her own choices.

Repeal the Eighth.