Another Texas sonogram story, another enormous preggobelly—in fact, the exact same stock-art preggobelly that we posted yesterday. Then, it was on BBC’s website; today, it was posted on the Daily Beast.
Amanda Marcotte was the first to alert us to today’s offense against photo-illustration suitability, CCing me on a heads-up tweet to Michelle Goldberg, the author of the Daily Beast story, letting her know that her otherwise excellent analysis had been sullied by truly crap stock art selection. Michelle’s reply (“Ugh, I know”) serves as a useful reminder that in many cases, though not all, an author has zero control over the art that’s selected to run with their stories. (In fact, this church-state divide often works in the other direction too: at a news org that has its own photographers, the folks who are good with words are often powerless to address the sometimes cringe-worthy captioning that the photogs apply to their otherwise fine work. That smug message you gleefully typed into your least-favorite news agency’s Contact Us form pointing out that they’re clearly incompetent hacks, since they can’t even put out a correctly-spelled photo caption? The photo desk couldn’t care less, and neither could the I.T. staffer who actually received your missive before rolling her eyes and deleting it forever. Just saying.)
So not only is it usually off-target to hold an author accountable for the photos that run next to her copy, but, as Amanda points out herself, there are lots of conscientious writers for whom it’d be a nightmare to be stuck with such loaded imagery. The thing is, though, that there are people whose jobs it is to illustrate their publications’ stories. In a way, this makes it even more boggling that lazy art like this makes the cut at all. I understand that stock art selections can be limited, but if you earn your living illustrating the news, I don’t think it’s asking too much that you step outside the preggobelly box for a few moments to come up with something that isn’t inflammatory and non-representative.
Sometimes, lazy art like this even goes past the needlessly prejudicial into outright inaccuracy. Michelle’s story makes a point that many articles on government-mandated sonograms often miss: that “[f]irst-trimester ultrasounds are typically performed vaginally, with a phallic-shaped wand.” In a typical early abortion, there’s just not enough to see for an abdominal ultrasound to be of much use. In fact, not even the vaginal probe can typically make out a pregnancy sac prior to five and a half weeks or so; a woman who wants an abortion earlier than that may have to choose between taking the abortion pill or waiting another week or so for a surgical procedure.
This is the reality of the average, everyday abortion: an embryo so tiny that not only is the pregnancy imperceptible by eyeball inspection of a lady’s belly, and not only is it maybe imperceptible by abdominal ultrasound, but it may even be imperceptible by the most sensitive, most invasive means of imaging currently available, the vaginal ultrasound. So I’m glad that the Daily Beast changed its art, very shortly after this morning’s Twitter conversation about it, because the new, relatively flat belly they’re now showing looks way more like a real first-trimester belly. But that abdominal ultrasound is still not really spot on for what we’re talking about here. (Of course I understand you can’t really show a picture of a vaginal ultrasound procedure on the Daily Beast—but if it’s too awful to be seen, why is it not too awful to force on every abortion-seeking resident of the state of Texas?)
To be perfectly clear, I support a person’s right to an abortion no matter how pregnant she looks or does not look. The question that this website asks is not “how big is too big to abort?” but rather “how big is too big to be an accurate representation of anything to do with the reality of safe, legal abortion, and how much misinformation and stigma are perpetuated when the media gets it wrong over and over and over again?” The answer, when very nearly 90% of American abortions are first-trimester, is that almost any visibly pregnant belly is too big, and that the misinformation and stigma are real, tangible, and harmful. Do better, pixel jockeys. Try harder.