When I set eyes on the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s looming anti-abortion display in the Park Blocks last week, I, like many of my fellow students, inwardly groaned, though perhaps not for the same reasons as my peers. I was also upset when I saw the protests that took place later in the afternoon. I stayed quiet when classmates voiced their opinions on the disturbing nature of the display, being afraid to say anything. Last week I was a closet pro-lifer. I may not support abortion, but neither do I support the disturbing tactics of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.
The use of images of aborted fetuses, linking them to photos from the Holocaust and genocides, makes the shock-and-awe tactics of this pro-life group apparent. The display was meant to be offensive, sickening and emotionally charged. Despite the group’s defense that this “forceful tactic [was meant] to expose abortion as an ‘act of violence,’” the sensationalist tone of the display couldn’t have been unexpected to such a veteran of university campuses.
If the group wanted to create a buzz across campus, they succeeded, but that’s where their accomplishments stop. The events that took place were incredibly polarizing, creating an us-vs-them mentality that turned pro-lifers into caricatures. This made potential thoughtful discourse and open-mindedness an impossibility.
Fellow pro-life student Naila Bairamova was also dismayed by the display. “There can be no good conversations when people are aggravated by seeing those horrific pictures. I think it hurt more than it helped,” she said.
This particular pro-life group is far from representative of the pro-life movement in its entirety. “With any movement, people can get very radical, and pro-life is not an exception,” Bairamova stated. “We should not judge the entire movement based on one event or one organization.”
There are kind, intelligent individuals on both sides of the abortion debate, and it is a difficult topic for many. It is, therefore, an issue that needs to be handled with thoughtfulness and empathy, rather than through shoving disturbing images in the public’s face. Approximately one in four women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45, according to a study released this month in the American Journal of Public Health. This would indicate that many of the students and faculty who saw the display have had abortions of their own. And in light of the insensitive and accusatory tone of the pro-life group last week, my heart aches.
“People need to be heard, not hurt,” Bairamova reflected on the group’s insensitivity. “Displays like that bring a lot of hurt. Most women who have gone through abortion did not make that decision lightheartedly…While I do not support abortion, I believe all those hurts and emotions are valid, and seeing the pictures of aborted children can add more trauma into their lives.”
Bairamova expressed that her religious values are a major reason behind her reaction to the display. Despite believing “God values life, […] I could not imagine Jesus doing anything like that […] because he loves and forgives,” she said.
While working as a translator in a hospital, Bairamova witnessed numerous abortion procedures. The graphic images of the display brought up difficult memories for her and likely many other individuals on campus. In equating abortion with genocide and murder, the pro-life group condemned students who may have experienced abortion, regardless of the trauma or sense of helplessness that may have surrounded the decision. Antagonizing women in this vulnerable place is not what being pro-life means; it’s insensitive and ignorant.
The pro-life position has many associations in our world. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform display may have reinforced such ties, but can’t provide an accurate representation of the movement as a whole. I am pro-life, and though to some it is paradoxical, I am also a feminist. My view on abortion isn’t based on religious beliefs; I would consider myself agnostic.
Something I love about Portland State is our diversity—be it age, race, sexual orientation or belief system. As members of the PSU community, we have such a wide range of experiences that make us unique. Broad categorizations that contribute to an us-vs-them mentality undermine this. Equating the pro-life view with such a horrible display misrepresents intelligent and thoughtful individuals who are also pro-life. Though they might not be loudly proclaiming their views in the Park Blocks, they have voices that deserve to be heard.