Marjorie Dannenfelser has dedicated her entire career to banning legal abortion in America. She’s now on the verge of winning. The tactics it took to get here were ugly, and often vengeful. What’s more, they were — and are — based in no small part on a visual lie:
An 18-week-old fetus does not, in any conceivable circumstance, appear outside its mother clean and pink and ethereally backlit. Nowhere in A Child Is Born, still a text used in universities as well as a staple of anti-abortion literature, is it revealed that Nilsson’s photos were of aborted fetuses, dead or dying, gray and blood-specked, arranged, then lit and colored the ruddy hues of a human baby. Another way to describe this picture: a person in her 18th week of pregnancy, absent almost all of her body. A living fetus is constitutive of a system — tucked inside a ligament-suspended uterus, nestled behind apronlike folds of viscera themselves thick with nerves and vessels and nodes, itself draped behind muscle — a single moving object among the shifting array of blood-filled organs that will slide to make room as the body changes. This is not the discontinuous succession of the “Life!” exhibit but a unity in flux. Almost all social movements work to erase context contrary to the cause. In this case, the context is a woman.