Malachi is undoubtedly the prolife industry’s Hallmark icon. Named Malachi, the story goes, to be a messenger about abortion, his image actually reveals much more than just a sentimental message.

Depending on the source, Malachi was found either in the garbage or in a freezer of a Dallas, Texas abortion clinic in 1993. The more popular story claims that the fetus was found in the abortion clinic’s freezer, packed in a jar with two (or three, depending on the story) other fetal bodies. The fetal remains depict an intact trunk with arms, a head and two detached legs. Configured like a gross morphology specimen in a laboratory, the body is positioned at a slight diagonal in the background while a tape measure parallels the bottom of the image (in the foreground). The text in the bottom of the frame announces the image as “Abortion at 21 weeks” without any medical or forensic verification. While it is unclear whether the tape measure is a U.S. or metric measure, the fetal crown to rump length measures approximately 15 units. The information provided in this image runs counter to standard medical information that establishes the crown to rump length (CRL) for a 21-week fetus is on average 17. 75 cm (6.98 inches). Despite the image’s questionable accuracy of the CRL and gestational age, it provides no further information except the claim that it represents a 21-week gestation abortion. Nor does it confirm that all the body parts belong together. The ubiquitous narrative from numerous prolife organizations states that the fetus was named Malachi because it means “messenger” and, though voiceless, would speak the truth about abortion to the world. Given to the world as a messenger about abortion, one could see how this 20th century “resurrection of the dead” reveals more about those who would disseminate this image.

In particular, there are many inconsistencies. According to the Priests for Life’s web site, Malachi was “found frozen in a jar” along with other fetuses in a Dallas, Texas abortion clinic in 1993. Common sense suggests that if Malachi was a 21 week fetus, his parts would not fit into a jar, let alone additional bodies, nor would a jar (assuming it’s glass) withstand freezing if it was packed. The Pro-Life Action league’s web site states that they “found his body in the garbage behind an abortion facility.”  Offering more and differing details about the abortion clinic, Mary Brown’s site states that Malachi “was taken from a jar that was inside of the North Dallas Women’s Clinic in the Central Square Office Building” (bellsouthpwp). According to Operation Save America and Priests for Life, an obstetrician and gynecologist named Dr. J. Patrick McCarty (now deceased), reassembled the fetal parts, estimated Malachi to be approximately 21 weeks at the time of death but did not provide a definitive cause of death. From one narrative, a Methodist minister (and no medical expert) and Director of Operation Save America, Flip Benham, declared the fetus was delivered by forceps and was clearly an abortion. The source of his knowledge of a forceps delivery and later term abortions lacks any medical validity. Of all the potential complications that could result in a spontaneous abortion, none were mentioned. The realities of a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage include fetal demise due to fetal structural or chromosomal anomalies or the result of an aberration within a twin or multiple pregnancy, to name a few potential causes. Yet, Rev. Benham is certain that the fetus died as a result of a forceps-delivered abortion.

The photograph, attributed to a Marco Medinain 1993, was rapidly transformed into a global icon, seemingly incorporated into the logic of prolife politics. It was circulated and distributed as a commodity for political gain, for selling stories, pamphlets and posters. However, it seems worthy to note the irony of the occasion. The individuals who discovered the fetal remains in the Dallas abortion clinic were people of faith, people who espoused the sacredness of all human life. Yet, their disrespect for the sacredness of fetal remains they called Malachi became fodder for widespread circulation and consumption.

Over time, the image has appeared with different colorations as freshly bloodied or as a cool gray cadaver devoid of any color, differences that suggest photo manipulation. Its ubiquity, while not so remarkable considering the ease of digital duplication, can be found on prolife websites and in their literature. The larger-than-life image is displayed on the sides of trucks, vehicles they call Truth Trucks, on posters and on vinyl banners hung around activists’ necks. The activists present these images to the converted, to the women they hope will turn away from abortion and to innocent bystanders including very young children. Prolife organizations (such as Priests for Life, Human Life International, Operation Rescue, American Life League and National Right to Life) promote and distribute materials with Malachi based on the belief that “America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion.”

Malachi was so named to be a messenger for the prolife industry. The presumption, according to the folks over at Priests for Life, is that Malachi is an “name that strikes terror in the hearts of those who kill children, for they know that this child, more than anything else, reveals the incredible horror of what abortion really is” (Priests for Life). What the prolife industry, including their curbside minions, fail to acknowledge is:

  • the remains of a human being should have been buried with respect and without publicity
  • the veracity of the image, while certainly questionable, becomes ethically challenged when activists use it indiscriminately and ignorantly as a bludgeoned tool
  • the image of the fetus (or the parts that allegedly represent this fetus) should not be made into a commodity for anti abortion publishing houses, self-assured, greedy priests who solicit for funds so they can hob nob at banquets and political events, or for curbside protesters who copy and paste the image indiscriminately
  • there are only anecdotes about the effectiveness of the Malachi image. There is no concrete evidence. Yet, like those who operate on faith, those who promulgate the image believe in its efficacy despite the lack of evidence.

American has seen this image over and over for the past ten years. And guess what? We’re still a nation that says abortion is legal. We’re still a nation that is prochoice. Antiabortion activists are forever crying about the dignity of the unborn yet flaunt images of dead bodies as if they weren’t sacred human beings. Well, it’s about time we cry foul on the anti abortion industry and demand that they take a closer look at their own despicable habit of profiting from images of the dead while simultaneously disgracing the dead.