DEBATE: It’s Bigger than Benches

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

[Content warning: please be advised that this piece and the accompanying debate piece include discussion of abortion and pregnancy, as well language that may be considered cisnormative.]

The pro-life benches decorating our Peterborough community caused a lot of controversy the moment they were first implemented. What has brought these ads back into the light and the consciousness of the Arthur are their new artistic developments. The graffiti art, which has redesigned the scare-tactic based pro-life bench slogans into a feminist pro-choice spectacle is on debate, criticized by some for vandalism which erases a possible choice for pregnant women. However, this argument encompasses a much larger issue than advertising.

To start, the facts of the bench slogans need to be addressed. The original pro-life benches depicted a full-grown baby situated beside the phrase, “Take my hand not my life.” The problematic imagery of this ad is the fact that the pro-life campaign is using a baby in order to strike fear, guilt and shame into those who may seek an abortion. The ad implies that an abortion is killing a baby when this is scientifically inaccurate, as abortions are performed before the development depicted on the benches, unless under emergency circumstances. The use of pictures to imply that women who are receiving abortions are doing so at such a late term in their pregnancy only spreads misconceptions regarding what it is that takes place during an abortion. To clear things up, abortions in Canada are performed by doctors who use their own judgment and assess the situation of each case to ensure it is safe as well as ethical to proceed. In Ontario, hospitals and clinics are under very strict guidelines and are not allowed to perform abortions past 24 weeks (although this varies depending on the hospital). The exception to this is when there are indications that the pregnancy is at serious risk of malformation or death, or that the mother is at risk of death (which according to the uOttawa medical department is not unordinary, as giving birth is actually riskier for women than it is to receive a legal termination). Following the decision to terminate, a woman will receive either a pill or surgical method to remove the embryo from the body. However, it is a key aspect in the practise that women are presented with all their options, including the possibility of taking their pregnancy to term as well as given a talk to ensure they are well informed and happy with their decision. Reflecting the motto of the pro-choice campaign to provide options- after all it is called pro-choice and not pro-abortion for a reason.

Highlighting that doctors give facts and support to inform a woman’s decision on how to proceed when pregnant, brings forth the question of who might want to receive an abortion. There are a multitude of reasons to why someone might seek an abortion such as economic instability, rape, inadequate support and so forth. If you are a student reading this piece (likely) you might want to also consider the fact that you may just not want to have a baby right now (or ever). As a University student, there are already a number of responsibilities as well as new found freedoms that don’t easily fit into a lifestyle of parenting. These possibilities should be considered legitimate, however are not recognized or supported by the pro-life campaign. The fact that the pro-life campaign’s memo is simply to stop abortions, not provide support after a baby has been produced proves that the campaign is not pro-women, though this is often argued.

To move away from the hard facts revolving around abortion and once more into the intentions of both the pro-life and pro-choice campaign is the indirect message and privileging within the pro-life bench slogan. “Take my hand, not my life” indicates the pro-life campaign’s willingness to protect a non-existent child’s life, over a woman’s. This clearly speaks to the pro-life’s political intentions and patriarchal views in order to make this a women’s issue, responsibility and purpose. On the contrary, the pro-choice campaign is inherently feminist and in support of women’s biological and political freedoms to be in control of their own bodies. The pro-choice campaign gives women the capacity to make decisions for themselves and be the experts of their own lives.

Even if we want to focus back on the vandalism as the main issue here and view it as a mistake made by the pro-choice campaign, I personally don’t see this as an error in judgement. To situate this historically, the pro-life campaign has been known to commit a multitude of crimes including harassment of doctors and patients, threatening letters to doctor and clinics, burning down of clinics as well as shootings, stabbings and other bodily harm to doctors that perform abortions. These actions are justified by claiming if doctors have the right to “kill” fetuses, they have the right to do the same. To then compare these crimes to the actions of the pro-choice campaign to graffiti the words, “My body, my choice” seems rather harmless.

Considering the actions taken to vandalise the pro-life benches speaks to the desperation some individuals are feeling to promote women’s rights. The right to abortion and women’s medical care is one that can easily be taken away as seen in the Trump administration, which is why it is important to not only give women the right to choose but also recognize women don’t need to be told what to do with their bodies, no matter which campaign you support. Women need to be given enough respect and acknowledgment that they are capable to make these decisions on their own, recognizing this issue is much bigger than a few defaced Peterborough benches.

Arthur invites you to read another perspective on the same issue here.