Visualising abortion: emotion discourse and fetal imagery in a contemporary abortion debate

Nick Hopkins, Suzanne Zeedyk, Fiona Raitt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    33 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper presents an analysis of a recent UK anti-abortion campaign in which the use of fetal imagery—especially images of fetal remains—was a prominent issue. A striking feature of the texts produced by the group behind the campaign was the emphasis given to the emotions of those viewing such imagery. Traditionally, social scientific analyses of mass communication have problematised references to emotion and viewed them as being of significance because of their power to subvert the rational appraisal of message content. However, we argue that emotion discourse may be analysed from a different perspective. As the categorisation of the fetus is a social choice and contested, it follows that all protagonists in the abortion debate (whether pro- or anti-abortion) are faced with the task of constructing the fetus as a particular entity rather than another, and that they must seek to portray their preferred categorisation as objective and driven by an ‘out-there’ reality. Following this logic, we show how the emotional experience of viewing fetal imagery was represented so as to ground an anti-abortion construction of the fetus as objective. We also show how the arguments of the (pro-abortion) opposition were construed as totally discrepant with such emotions and so were invalidated as deceitful distortions of reality. The wider significance of this analysis for social scientific analyses of the abortion debate is discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)393-403
    Number of pages11
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


    • Abortion
    • Emotion discourse
    • Fetal imagery
    • Rhetoric


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