Like many, I was shocked and disgusted when I saw the poster of a freshly aborted fetus that the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform displayed on the Lincoln Alexander Parkway during the evening rush hour on Sept. 17. The news that this group showed these pictures outside of Sherwood Secondary School on Sept. 25 – in view of a nearby elementary school – brought the same reaction. I suppose this means that the photos had their desired effect; it caused people to notice it and be shocked at the degree of violence that the fetus had suffered.
It is interesting, and somewhat backward, that this group and others use images of violent death to get their “pro-life” message across. Even within the pro-life community, the use of images of aborted fetuses has generated debate, some arguing that those images are the cold, dead truth. They say that pictures of death are the most effective way of communicating a pro-life message; that is, an abortion ban.
And herein lays the problem. The goal of the pro-life movement is not solely to ban abortion as it exists in our culture today, although the media would certainly have us believe that. The pro-life movement’s stated goal is to create a culture where human life, from conception to natural death, is recognized as the most fundamental human right and legally protected as such. Groups that use grisly images only confuse the message of the larger pro-life movement. They only put a negative spin on what should be a positive message.
But why is there so much emotional reaction to the pictures? After all, this is Canada, where the abortion debate was settled in 1988. The progressive side just bullies all opponents into submission and sometimes misleads the public in order to obtain their goal of a free and open society. If anything, photos of aborted fetuses should be shown by pro-choice groups as a trophy of their victory, to show what a progressive, open country they have singlehandedly shaped us into. Right?
I doubt it. Like it or not, the debate about abortion is far from settled. The emotional reactions inspired by the pictures of aborted fetuses at Sherwood and The Linc are a microcosm of Canadians’ feelings about abortion. An Ipsos Reid poll conducted in 2012 found that 62% of female respondents supported the introduction of a law that places limits on when a woman can have an abortion during her pregnancy. Dr. Henry Morgentaler saw “serious ethical problems” with late term abortions, saying that “we want to abort fetuses before they become babies.” Justin Trudeau, whose father decriminalized abortion in Canada, tweeted “Now I’m getting guff from (abortion advocates) because I said I don’t like abortion. Does anyone who’s pro-choice, as I am, really LIKE abortion?”
Regardless of what position one takes, the abortion debate is one worth having. With every passing year, the decision to remove all abortion laws from Canada’s books appears more and more short-sighted and a reaction designed to placate pro-choice activists, who were more militant than their pro-life counterparts and got their way. The display of aborted fetuses, while ill-advised and not effective for pro-lifers, serves to stir up debate – a debate that many Canadians would prefer to be seen as settled, even though it is anything but.