Images of aborted fetuses and smoker's lungs--which are worse?

Warning: Some graphics here may offend certain people.

What is the limit of government's power to require corporations to speak out against their own products in violation of free speech rights? A federal judge has decided that requiring cigaret companies to display gross pictures of the worst consequences of smoking (dead people, diseased lungs) on their packages violates that right.

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - A federal judge blocked a U.S. rule requiring tobacco companies to display graphic images on cigarette packs, such as a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a hole in his throat.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sided on Monday with tobacco companies and granted a temporary injunction, saying they would likely prevail in their lawsuit challenging the requirement as unconstitutional because it compels speech in violation of the First Amendment.

The Food and Drug Administration in June released nine new warnings to go into effect in September of 2012, the first change in U.S. cigarette warning labels in 25 years. Cigarette packs already carry text warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General.

This  won't be the last word, as the case most likely will end up appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

But this raises a further question: Where, in the name of good taste, civility, common sense, modesty, delicacy or whatever is the boundary to what is permissible when deploying repulsive imagines in furtherance of a cause?

For years, pro-life groups have been condemned for trying to publish (mostly unsuccessfully in the mainstream media) gruesome images of aborted fetuses. The opposition to their publication comes down to something like this: It coarsens public discourse or, more generally, it will offend. Mysteriously, though, that argument didn't seem to occur to liberals that oppose publication of the "products of pregnancy termination" while at the same time favoring the forced display of the "products of smoking."

We're in a gray free-speech area, but it occurs to me that there is one significant difference: Pro-life advocates have not used the force of law to require that gruesome images of aborted fetuses be prominently displayed on the exterior of abortion clinics for all to see. (They have tried to require abortion clinics to offer sonograms so that their clients can view  their  live fetuses, which seems to me to be something altogether different than making them view dismembered or acid burned images of aborted fetuses.)

Anyway, here are the images in question:

Well, I was going to post pictures of aborted fetuses, but I couldn't stand to look at them. For those with strong stomaches, here is a link to the Google search for "aborted fetuses."

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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