CityEditorialOpinion

Editorial: Pro-life groups shouldn’t use ads to shame students

Before Reading Week, campus was riddled with posters promoting the pro-life club on campus that screamed “I Regret my Abortion.” Apparently, these were to promote an event the group was hosting in SUB that week, where the Silent No More Awareness Campaign tabled with fake fetuses and giant posters proclaiming “Women Regret Abortion.”

Apart from terrible font choice and poor design, the posters were the target of widespread tear-downs by so-called “vigilantes.” In the morning there were hundreds of posters all over campus, and by evening there were very few remaining. It was an issue so whined about that Metro covered the posters, giving the club even more publicity than their tactless posters did.

The Feb. 12 Metro article in question titled “University of Alberta student group cries fowl after nearly 3,000 event posters vandalized,” details how the group is only looking to be able to advertise their events fairly, and the widespread postering is totally justified because they have the right to advertise in any way they choose on campus.

Amberlee Nicol, the president of the pro-life group on campus was quoted in Metro’s article stating “While I can fully understand why people would strongly disagree with our message, and I think it’s fine for them to disagree with us, what I don’t understand is why people think it’s alright to silence the opinions of people they disagree with.”

A key point to note is the posters aren’t being taken down with the intent of silencing a message. Those crying “this is a violation of free speech” don’t seem to understand is that no one is trying to directly silence the club because of their opinions. We’re in a university. It’s probably the place you’re most likely to have real discourse about controversial topics in your life. Everyone understands the importance of freedom of speech. If everyone tore down a poster that they didn’t agree with, there would be no posters left because everyone has different opinions. What doesn’t seem to be understood is that while discourse about controversial topics is good, using aggressive language to draw people to your events isn’t going to garner any support.

By stating “Women regret abortions,” in a loud and in-your-face way, you’re creating a triggering space for people who have experienced or considered an abortion, making them feel unsafe at school, a place where they should feel welcomed and not ostracized for any choices they’ve made. It demonizes a woman who’s made a choice about her body, a choice that can’t be taken back once the act is done. If she didn’t regret her abortion, she might now, considering she’s surrounded by posters shaming and attacking her.

The argument of safe spaces can be extended just as easily to the “Silent No More Awareness Campaign,” the event the club was promoting and hosting. Littering a table with fake fetuses and huge posters shaming those who have undergone abortion is not going to inspire women who have had a traumatic experience to come and agree with your opinion. It’s just going to scare women into quiet shame, because it tells them they should regret a choice they’ve already made.

No one deserves to feel ashamed for their choices during their daily lives. Especially so in the place they have decided to pursue an education. A school should be a safe space for students to learn, socialize and just exist. If you want to start up discourse surrounding a controversial topic, there are ways to advertise that won’t cause people to shame themselves for their choices. Opening a conversation doesn’t have to be aggressive, especially around such a
conscientious issue.

31 Comments

  1. The author fails to determine how “I regret my abortion” and “Women regret abortion” are necessarily shaming. I don’t think these statements humiliate, blame or guilt, and they seem fairly neutral. Abortion nor women are criminalized, and these statements don’t attempt to shock or provoke; they are sober and they invite dialogue. These statements could be read differently, as the author asserts: they might “scare women into quiet shame, because it tells them they should regret a choice they’ve already made.” But there is no “should.” There is no moral obligation. “Should” might be implied, but it also might not be. Also, how many women do the statements claim regret abortion? All or some? These statements are skillfully ambiguous, unlike previous messages from this pro-life group.

    If shaming isn’t necessary, then accusations of these statements being necessarily “aggressive”, “attacking” or “demonizing” do not follow.

    The author then confuses shaming with triggering. Trigger warnings or preventing something as a result of possible triggers work before experiencing obviously violent or distressing stimuli, such as a violent film in class. But triggers in real life for people who’ve experienced trauma occur as a result of ambiguous stimuli at any time, at any place. It is excessive to expect everyone to censor themselves of ambiguous stimuli that might be a possible trigger. Mentioning abortion itself could be a trigger, and avoiding mentioning abortion stifles conversation. Also, ubiquitous trigger warnings and censorship in the name of triggers invites self-parody and diminishes the original purpose of trigger warnings.

    The aforementioned statements seem reasonable, so this article looks like an attempt to silence the voice and/or gut the argument and/or poison the language of a group with which the author disagrees. Ironically, these attempts are what bring the most attention to these pro-life groups.

  2. The article keeps referring to the anatomical fetal development models displayed on their club table in SUB as “fake fetuses”. Do you have an objection to science, or did you want to see real live fetuses?

      1. Oops that was intended for J (although you did also discuss triggers, but that was after J’s comment, so understandable). Thanks for pointing out that I replied in the wrong place.

        1. I think the new reply function is either glitchy or we’re all the equivalent of elderly people first learning how to use the interwebs

  3. I would like to point out that I did not once use the word “triggered” in my comment – you interpreted it that way all on your own.

    That said, triggers are unique to a particular person’s experience, and don’t need to approved by others as being real enough or bad enough to count.

  4. I am able to read information and decide things all by myself without it being screened for me in advance. Feminists have no legitimate concern about my physical and emotional health and this is about further their goal of having a world that makes discussion of competing views unsavoury. A University is a think tank where ideas should be vigorously debated. People who tear down posters with their hands rather than challenge people with words and ideas do so because of their own intellectual limitations. They are incapable of discussion and debate.

    Feminists do not speak for me.

  5. Hello Hailey:

    I agree fully, except for the opinion that killing your baby is a ‘legitimate’ view. It is not. We find slavery reprehensible because it denies the essential truth of natural law; that our individual humanity is not dependent on skin pigmentation. Abortion denies that the child in the womb is as valuable outside of the womb, despite the fact that every one of us has been in the womb at the earliest point in our lives. Sadly people favor comfort over truth and sweet lies to consequences.

    Sincerely,
    Sean Ollech

  6. There are women who affirm the decision to end a pregnancy as the appropriate and best choice in the circumstances that they had for years to come. This is a legitimate view which represents a certain percentage of women. There are women who carry with them a sense that wasn’t the right decision for years to come. This is also legitimate. I believe that women who are truly confident of their decision would be unhindered by the reality that there are people who do not share their view on abortion. Both perspectives – and all perspectives in between – are all practical realities.

    Women who do not regret their abortion should not be forced to attend and to my knowledge are not. The poster allows adult men and women to read and to discern their interest – those vandalizing the posters are suggesting that others should not be in a position to read or decide. If people feel that others holding a different view on abortion that they have and advertising educational forums that speak to that view is a form of harassment according to the U of A codes they can report that to the authorities. I do not know if that complaint would withstand scrutiny but it is a more legitimate step than vandalism. If people feel that there are rules that are being broken around the numbers of poster that should be addressed and if people feel that a rule needs to be created that is also valid. There are legitimate ways to bring those tools forward for discussion. Educated people are capable of more than vandalism.

    I have read different statistics over the years about what percentage of women regret their abortion versus affirm it in the years to come so I don’t know what to believe. Folks on both sides of this issue, in my view, want only statistics that reinforce their world view so it’s all quite self-serving. I do know that there are enough women who regret their abortion that there are actual organizations dedicated full-time to providing service to those women. That suggests a need that is unmet elsewhere. Women who have had an abortion that they regret being given the choice to attend a meeting to hear that information is a valid option. People should not be taking steps to limit the resources available to those women who are perhaps in grief or regret. We do women no favours by limiting the information available to them or the resources available to them.

    If someone’s certainty about their abortion is so fragile that they are dis-regulated that they cannot attend class because a poster speaks to some women regretting their abortion I would suggest that they need support in working that through because that is a fragile situation. If the pro-choice movement on campus is hearing from those women I hope that part of their response is to help that person manage the reality that is a controversial subject and any decision made will not evoke 100% public support.

    It is an anti-woman paternalistic mentality that says that women are too emotional, too temperament, or too delicate to hear It is difficult to believe that a feminist would embrace the view that women are too fragile to read, think, and discern. I do not feel belittled or demeaned because others hold competing views and it is not realistic to expect a world to hold the same view on this issue.As a woman I can assure that I am fully capable of hearing strong and competing views, of hearing that the choices I make do not necessarily have the full weight of 100% public support, and for deciding for myself whether or not I wish to hear that information. I do not need any man or woman making that decision for me about what I can read, what I can emotionally handle, and what meeting I can attend.

    I am a fully capable functioning adult and “C” and those who think like him/her have a right to their view but have no right to limit what I can see, what I can read, and where I can go.

  7. Life is full of difficult choices and sometimes our choices have long-lasting effects on ourselves and others. Sometimes we regret our choices and would prefer to forget them. This is human nature. Imagine a world where we could insulate ourselves from the effects of our choices or the choices of others. In such a world we would be incapable of learning from our mistakes or the mistakes of others. This would not be a healthy way to live. We would be forever infantilized and unable to make progress. We need each other’s experiences so that we have the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and benefit society.

  8. I’m not ashamed of my abortion but it’s something I can’t even tell a lot of people in fear of being called a baby killer. It was definitely the best decision for me and my potential infant and the person who would’ve fathered my child. I will never regret it. I hate seeing these posters on campus because it is a painful memory.

    Long story short, my ex told me to take care of it when I told him I was pregnant (We were so so careful but it still happened). Then after (he didn’t even come with me to the clinic for my long painful procedure), he shamed me about not regretting it. He would use this abortion against me every time we had a fight. I was in an abusive situation that escalated terribly after the abortion. Would that have been a great father for my child? I would’ve been forever legally tied to him if I had the child. I would also be financially burdened with a baby. I would’ve never been able to provide for my child like I wanted to.

    It’s been a while since this incident happened. Seeing these posters triggers awful awful memories. I would’ve felt uncomfortable sharing this experience to the event they were advertising, so it’s not as “inclusive” as these commenters would say.

    I’m all for sharing opinions but this clearly was a tactic to shame women and stir up controversy. The pro-life group claims to be oppressed but they don’t listen to any of the opinions other than their own and don’t base things on facts.

    If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one. Why make a whole group about it and try to force people to not like abortions?

  9. I wanted to say thank you for this article. It was incredibly validating to read. As someone who has had an abortion AND as someone who is part of the LGBTQ* community, this group’s tactics have hit me really hard and have been negatively impacting my ability to concentrate on school or walk around campus and feel safe. I am pro-choice, but I don’t begrudge anyone their right to have differing opinions or meet as a group. What I do take issue with is being bombarded by posters and words that shame, belittle, and appropriate my experiences for their purposes.

    1. how are these triggering what are they triggering “oh no you’ve triggered mild discomfort in me now i shant step foot in the building with the big bad piece of paper on a wall”

      stop using that word to mean something you don’t like to think about that isn’t what it means and you are being too sensitive

      if posters can cause a panic attack and flashbacks on par with what someone living with post traumatic stress disorder gets then how on earth can you navigate an environment that necessarily introduces you to controversial and conflicting ideas as part of your education jfc

      1. I’m a member of thr pro-life club on campus. I’m so sorry that you found the posters triggering. I know that my apologizing can’t take away the pain that you’ve felt, but i did want to apologize anyway. I didn’t design the posters and, personally, if I had I would have designed them very differently. The last thing our group intended was to trigger post-abortive people. The entire point of the silent no more awareness campaign is to give post abortive people a voice and to offer a space and resources for them to heal.

        I’m also a member of the LGBTQIA community. Again, if i designed them I wouldn’t have used coming out language (I’m assuming that’s what hurt you, please correct me if I’m wrong), but the intention behind them wasn’t to harm anyone.

        I do know a lot of atheists (including myself) have used coming out language to describe their experiences telling their families and friends about their non-belief. You can find coming out videos for atheists all over YouTube and other media. I felt very similar anxieties telling my pro-choice friends that I was pro-life as I did telling them I was gay. That feeling of anxiety about telling people about an aspect of our identity is what the posters were referring to.

        That being said, your feelings are valid and I thank you for sharing them.

        1. You’re a cool chick, Deanna. I hope you rub off on others in your club as I know some aren’t as open minded or as considerate as you! <3

      2. I would like to point out that I did not once use the word “triggered” in my comment – you interpreted it that way all on your own.

        That said, triggers are unique to a particular person’s experience, and don’t need to approved by others as being real enough or bad enough to count.

        1. no, but again, if someone is triggered by something as simple as words on a poster they need to address that in their own life and be mentally well enough that the world and meatspace isn’t that dangerous to them, otherwise the amount of things we would have to remove that could trigger people would be absurd and it isn’t a good situation for anyone, the triggered or people just going about their daily lives and accidentally doing the triggering

          i’m also a little skeptical that there are as many people out there with persistent anxiety disorders that supposedly get triggered all the time and have been treated for it as my own counsellors have seen very little of it in the way of other people who aren’t military or law enforcement living with it

          also in terms of you not using triggered i pressed reply on the wrong comment lol

          1. Why do you think it’s your right to question someone else’s experience? Firstly, as someone who lives with an anxiety disorder I can tell you that yes, trying to live a normal life when something as simple as words on a poster can trigger me is hard. Nearly impossible. I’ve come close to committing suicide due to the effect that certain scenes in movies have had on my mental health. Mental health isn’t always logical, and if we are to move past the stigma associated with it, then it’s imperative that we learn to accept people’s mental health experiences as legitimate.

            Perhaps people shouldn’t have taken down this groups posters. Ideally the complaints about the tasteless nature of these posters would have been received by the group who would have created new posters which didn’t target or shame any group and focused on advertising the service the group provides. But that didn’t happen and those individuals who are triggered have the right to express their experience without being attacked as well.

          2. Gotta love how the prolife supporters mention how words can’t hurt people… So the next step is too had giant pictures of aborted non-children in quad… It’s like they purposely want to be more offensive

      3. @J You’re really missing the boat on this one. The posters may not cause someone to have a panic attack but they are still shitty to see and and don’t serve a good purpose. The poster isn’t going to convince anyone to oppose the practice because this is a university and people are mostly immune to scare tactics. Let’s say someone left a board in the middle of a hallway and people frequently walked passed it and, somehow not noticing, stubbed their toes. The board isn’t accomplishing anything and it’s not like its breaking bones but it’s still a pain in the ass. I think you’d be fair to remove the board and also call whoever left it there a careless asshole. What if the poster said “Non-believers will burn for eternity” or “Religion is for the desperate and weak-minded.”? Not massively distressing but stupid and unhelpful.

      1. maybe, but I’m not wrong

        people triggered by a poster without graphic content absolutely are fragile and need to work through that and find mental wellness not censor others because they’re thrown for a loop by printed words

  10. Multiple women have complained to the Dean of Students about how triggering these posters are. Some of them even informed the Collective Body for Arts Students that the postering in Humanities was so bad that they couldn’t handle going to class until the posters were gone.

    No one should have to see I REGRET MY ABORTION outside of every single classroom at the university. A large number of women on campus have terminated pregnancies and shouldn’t have to deal with reliving that everywhere they go.

    This student group is not equipped or qualified to provide councelling or support for these women. They are exploiting pain and regret to make a political point. If women are indeed regretting their abortion, there are unbiased, non-judgemental sources of support available. This student group wants to use pain, shame and guilt (arguably caused by the pro-life movement) to limit the freedoms of ALL women.

    Further, according to the Code of Student’s Behavior’s definition of harassment, these posters were a violation:

    “Conduct or comment, either one-time or repeated that:
    a) is demeaning, intimidating, threatening, or abusive; and
    b) is not trivial or fleeting in nature; and
    c) causes offence and should have reasonably been expected to offend; and
    d) serves no legitimate purpose for the work, study or living environment, and
    e) undermines authority or respect in the work, study or living environment, or impairs work or learning performance, or limits opportunities for advancement or the pursuit of education or research, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or learning environment.”

    I hope the University will do something about this student group’s disgusting behavior.

  11. Taken from UAlberta Confessions:

    #12612 – I went to the last pro-life meeting, feeling like a spy, expecting to call them out on a bait-and-switch campaign. The posters advertised women sharing how abortion had affected them personally and advocated a safe place to share those perhaps unpopular feelings.

    I expected though to hear at least how Jesus was the only answer or how abortion should be illegal.
    Instead, it was as advertised. The speakers were very courteous, and no political or religious agenda was brought out. It was authentic and informative, explaining the very real stages of grief some people may experience (especially depending on their upbringing).

    This group receives a lot of hate, and I’m not innocent of wanting to fight them on their beliefs. However, in this case, I want to say I was wrong in my assumptions about the group and how their event would look. I apologize for my hidden attitude, pro-life students, and thank you for being so kind and welcoming!

    -The pro-choice atheist in disguise

  12. As ridiculous as this editorial was, the least the author could do is get some facts straight. The posters weren’t advertising for an event in SUB, and they read: “Women Do Regret Abortion”. If you had actually dialoged with the hosts of the event, you would know that they in no way believe all women regret their abortions. Rather, the event was a platform for women who do regret their abortions to speak out about their own personal experiences, struggles, and healing.

  13. Can we also consider that those posters were NOT tactfully promoting an event by putting up a few posters around campus? They were EVERYWHERE. I have class in Humanities and there was 6 posters across the bulletin board on the main floor, and a poster on the board outside every classroom on that floor. When I walked into Tory first floor for my next class, it was the same thing. This isn’t promotion, this isn’t just distasteful, this is intentionally being hateful in every space possible so that people can’t avoid it. I tore down posters and I’m glad that I did.

    I’ve since stopped since the pro-lifers have chose to persecute people rather than hear why fellow students don’t want them up… but honestly, I had friends who couldn’t come to campus because it was too triggering for them. That’s not okay.

  14. Tearing down posters is still a shit move regardless. We should be encouraging the debate, not insulating ourselves because we find the tactics used distasteful. They aren’t trolls like the Westboro Baptist Church that gets off on people getting mad at them, they’re a legitimate group that you disagree with in method and motive.

    1. Their tactics are not encouraging debate. Posters with slogans such as “women regret their abortions” is targeting and shaming a specific group of people on campus. And now they are hosting an “graphic abortion display” in quad on the 3rd and the 4th of March, and attempting to hold campus hostage by suggesting that if you are triggered by graphic displays such as aborted fetuses then you should just not go into quad during those two whole days. They are consciously doing this during the SU elections and Pride Week, both times when there is more activity in Quad especially due to the fact that the Pride Parade runs through Quad. If they were actively promoting debate instead of using the tired old tactics of shame and fear, I would agree with you. And I do agree that perhaps tearing down their posters was not tasteful. But they have since proven themselves to be no better than any of their ilk, and as a campus community we cannot stand for a group such as this to make campus an unsafe place for many people who through their life experience will suffer legitimate mental health concerns due to exposure to their tactics. At the very least make them set up their display in a private area where people who are interested can choose to go.

      1. Whether or not you think they encourage debate is not up to you. If they choose to pursue debate or convey information in whatever way they choose, that’s their right.

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