In the Arbor on Wednesday and Thursday, there were two large displays with pictures of aborted fetuses upon them. I want to preface this by saying that I am not arguing for or against abortion, and I’m not even entirely clear what the Arbor group’s agenda was. I do, however, think that the display produced the positive effect of creating a more informed population by facilitating dialogue about abortion.
The photos of the aborted fetuses displayed the costs associated with abortion. Many pro-choice people get caught up in the women’s-right-to-choose argument and fail to take into consideration what the result of such pro-choice legislation has on the actual aborted fetuses. This was the side of the issue that the display served to represent. As I was walking by, I heard people exclaiming how disgusting the photos were, yet I think it’s safe to assume that many of them were themselves pro-choice.
My problem is not that I do not think a rational person can see the photos and still be pro-choice, only that a great number of people who are pro-choice have not and do not want to deal with the ugly side. John Stuart Mill writes about how actions that contest the accepted opinions of people are always good when presented in a noncoercive manner because, upon review of the new evidence, people either change their minds – which is good because it forces people to admit their errors – or they affirm their previous position and make it that much stronger. They also then have a stronger justification for the grounds for thinking it’s the right thing to believe.
Surely a moment of discomfort is worth this realization. The calm and passive nature of the display leads me to believe that the pro-life activists were not after a purely emotional response from the people. They felt that they were right and wished you to consider an aspect that you might not have considered before, which they thought and hoped would lend more credence to their position.
This justification also holds for the PETA protestors from a while ago who juxtaposed photos of slaves in shackles with those of restrained animals. The point was not to say that slaves were animals, but to make people question what exactly it is that makes it okay to make slaves of animals and not people. They admittedly had hoped that people would fail to find such justification and join their school of thought. Disregarding their intentions, everyone was still better off for having seen the images and rationally reconciling their own beliefs.
It is really no different from when anti-war people display crosses representing the fallen soldiers to make real the casualties of the war. The idea is that they want people to be aware of the costs of their choice to support the war, with the hope that people will decide that the human costs outweigh any benefits. Their intentions do not really matter, though. It would have the positive effect I have described regardless of their position – and if they had instead used photos of the soldiers, all the better. We all should strive to be more informed and justified in our beliefs and positions.
William Bausman is a junior philosophy and physics major.