A few hours before I left my room for the opening plenary of a two-day conference on abortion, a friend sent me the link to Personhood USA’s latest ad. It was playing in the back of my head as I listened to academics debate, politely but forcefully, about selective abortion and fetal personhood, the right of conscientious objection and the issue of fetal pain. And although I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, and left with a more nuanced view of several issues, I’m still terrified for the state of discourse on abortion in this country – in large part because of this ad.
The ad is disturbing, not just because it’s patently false and manipulative (the billion-dollar abortion industry? Roe v. Wade as the destruction of “life and liberty”) but because of its characterization of the president as the “angel of death,” the bringer of hell, the ultimate comic book villain (who would compare the president to the Joker in Batman? Really?) and its blatantly religious message. A Bible verse (Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”) adorns the corner of the “Amendment 62″ logo, making it clear that the people behind the ad believe that the United States is a Christian nation, and that it needs to be returned, through legislation like this, to its Christian roots (regardless of whether being pro-life is truly Christian, something that scholars of religion could easily contest).
The ad has to do with Colorado’s Amendment 62, the “personhood amendment,” a disturbing piece of legislation that Shelby Knox wrote about a few weeks ago. Even though it’s unlikely to pass, Personhood USA has made it clear that it will continue to resurrect it for as long as it takes.
After a weekend of open minds and fair-minded words (part of the conference’s theme), the ad left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. It was harder to be hopeful, simply because the world of academia doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of the abortion debate. Although I’m staunchly pro-choice, I’ve had countless productive and sympathetic conversations with pro-life friends on campus, and I wasn’t surprised to see that spirit carried into the conference, which was organized by Peter Singer, the famous bioethicist, among others. But that simply doesn’t seem to carry into other spheres, where organizations can produce ads that are so full of racism, sexism and hate. How do we bring productive conversation to the abortion debate throughout the country? And should we try?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.