by Kate Larson
The October 4th arrest of students at Carleton University about to take part in the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), the display of graphic posters comparing abortion to the Holocaust and similar atrocities, made me think about the use of images in discussions of abortion. At both this year’s and last year’s abortion debates hosted by Ottawa Students for Life, the pro-choice speakers re-iterated the common argument that the use of images of abortion in discussions of the subject is intellectually dishonest and emotionally manipulative. This implies a number of things: firstly that images are being used in place of logical arguments, rather than to enhance them or to promote discussion of them, secondly that words are somehow neutral and have no manipulative power of their own, and lastly that emotions have no place in just decision-making.
The National Campus Life Network website is just one place where rational arguments against abortion are laid out clearly and compellingly. No images are used to fill logical holes. There are no holes to fill. As for the OSFL debates, full logical justification of the pro-life position was given. A short video was shown of an abortion being performed, and the audience was warned that it might be disturbing and that they were welcome to cover their eyes or turn away if they wished. The video did not substitute for any argument, but only served to remind the audience, if they chose to view it, of the reality of something that is too horrifying for words to adequately convey.
This brings us to the emotional resonance of words. Words can be carefully chosen to increase or decrease the emotional impact of what a person is saying. They are certainly not mere servants of fact. One has only to consider how abortion is often referred to in society to see that. Terms such as “a woman’s right to choose” or umbrella terms such as “reproductive rights”, “reproductive freedom”, “reproductive choice”, and “body rights” are not factual references, they are names chosen to make the killing of babies sound positive, desirable, and even necessary. It seems to me there can be no intellectual honesty and lack of emotional manipulation in a position that doesn’t even properly name what it attempts to justify.
Why do we debate issues such as abortion? We do so because we do not live by logic alone. The desire to make just decisions is motivated not by statistics or cost-benefit analysis but by love and compassion for others and hope that our society will be better for everyone if we do what is right and oppose what is wrong. Logical argument is important, but it is this love and compassion and hope that makes us more than automatons and ought to help ensure that we do not blithely allow innocent human beings to be killed. Of course people will have an emotional response to images of abortion: the images are awful. They are also real and no amount of rhetoric is going to make them seem positive, desirable, or necessary.