Tactics and Optics and Giving Ammunition to Martyr-Posing Fetus Fetishists

by Matttbastard, a de/transnational and biracial POC with a Canadian passport who hates flying.

[Note to Shakers from Liss: The nuances of the Canadian abortion debate are not totally the same as in America, so that should be borne in mind when commenting. As Matt noted in an email to me, "The pro-choice movement in Canada has a structural disadvantage to the pro-lifers, who have a free national house organ in the form of the National Post and are eager to take hold of any opportunity to get abortion into the public eye." It's not precisely the same fight as it is here, which is just something to keep in mind as you read.]

Let me first lay out a few things, for those who don't know me: I'm militantly pro-choice. A woman's right to bodily autonomy is absolute and unyielding, no compromise, no shades of grey—full stop. Those who would deny a woman the right to full reproductive liberty have, in effect, declared her body to be public property, individual sovereignty superseded by the potential of 'life'; they deserve nothing but contempt and scorn in return for their callous disregard for the asterisk-free humanity of women.

With all that said (y'all had to know this was setting up a "however"), this recent incident at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, is troubling, on numerous levels…
Several students who took part in a graphic anti-abortion display at the University of Calgary have been charged with trespassing, a lawyer for the students says.

The students with University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life have to enter a plea by the end of the month and expect a trial later this year, Canadian Constitution Foundation's executive director John Carpay said in a release.

"The university is created by legislation, governed by legislation and receives more than 60 per cent of its funding from taxpayers," he said. "As a public institution, it does not have the right to discriminate against one group of students by censoring one viewpoint on an issue."

Leah Hallman, president of the anti-abortion group, said three students have been served legal papers, and she expects three more will also be served.

University lawyer Paul Beke said in November the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't apply to universities, and freedom of expression protection doesn't extend to trespassers.

"Protesters are on the university's private property and they have refused to follow the university's instructions," Beke said at the time.

"Because they won't co-operate, they had to give notice to the protesters that they will become illegal protesters. So they will be dealt with legally if they do trespass."
The dispute first came to a head in November of 2008, after members of the University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life Club set up on campus a gruesome poster display it calls the "Genocide Awareness Project," which, according to CBC News, shows images of "aborted fetuses and compare abortion to the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan and the genocide in Rwanda."

CBC News also reports that "university administrators asked the group, which has about 30 members, to make the posters less visible, citing safety concerns. But when members refused to comply, the school issued a letter [in October] threatening legal action against group members if they bring the displays on campus." The trespassing charges issued this past Monday are apparently the culmination of the previously disregarded warnings.

The Pro-Life Club has put up similar displays several times since 2005, and, according to Campus Pro-Life president Leah Hallman, "The university had previously displayed signs saying that our right to be there and to put up the display was protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And then we watched them cover that sign up."

In a statement released Tuesday, The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) puts constitutional arguments over "free speech" into broader context:
Regardless of constitutional arguments, the display is considered highly offensive and inappropriate for a university environment. "To compare abortion with genocide is exploitive and insensitive to real victims of genocide," said Lianne McTavish, another spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. "The display is especially disturbing because it appears to equate women who have abortions to Nazis and other genocidal murderers," she said. "Women students not only have a legal right to abortion, they have a right not to become targets of discrimination on their own campus."
As Toronto Star columnist (and kick-ass blogger) Antonia Zerbisias further notes, "it's not as if these pro-forced pregnancy types were banned from campus, which is private property by the way [emph. added]. They were allowed to put up their extremist displays, but according to certain rules. But still, they persist."

Still, I can't help but think that libertarian feminist blogger JJ may be correct when she contends that "an intelligent society should be able to make this distinction and summarily dismiss such bullshit without the friendly assistance of the State Goon Squad."

JJ further elucidates a pragmatic reason for supporters of reproductive liberty to denounce and reject the U of C's recent legal maneuvers:
[N]ow that Uof C has decided to go the Goon Squad route, all I can say is
STOP! Stop giving them so much publicity!!

This is exactly what they want: PERSECUTION, they thrive on it and revel in it.

The best thing to do with the campus anti-choice doucheclub is just ignore them. They'll always be around, foaming and jibbering and waving their plastic fetuses in the background, why not just keep them there instead of making them the center of nationwide attention as censorship martyrs and giving them the persecution high they crave?
Indeed, the trespassing charges have already become somewhat of a cause celebre among anti-choice factions in Canada, providing them with a national forum to air anti-choice/anti-woman propaganda from an affected position of feigned persecution and martyrdom, as opposed to the limited boundaries of a university campus.

And what about if the roles were reversed, and a pro-choice organization on campus was facing persecution from a university, spurred on by vindictive pro-lifers? Anti-abortion groups are not free speech absolutists; they are comprised of militant activists with a specific and singular agenda, political opportunists willing to do whatever it takes to further the ultimate goal of eliminating reproductive liberty and reducing women to procreative vassals—"mere instrument[s] of production", as Marx put it. It would not surprise me to see a subsequent, vengeful quid pro quo effort on the part of Canadian social conservatives—a move that could further chill campus speech to the detriment of free and open discourse within private institutions of higher learning.

Plus, as Fern Hill, quoting from a recent speech by Canadian anti-feminist commentator Barbara Kay, observes, allowing extreme rhetoric like this to be aired out in public may ultimately do more damage to the anti-abortion movement than good:
I wonder if those who think the GAP campaign is defensible have really assessed the damaging image it creates in intelligent observers' minds. It brands you as people who feel passionately, but who do not think clearly. High emotion and the absence of reason are the marks of extremists and conspiracy theorists.
But is it fair to expect women to simply suck it up and ignore those who would brazenly compare them to genocidal mass-murderers and racial terrorists? To once again quote ARCC spokesperson Lianne McTavish, "Women students not only have a legal right to abortion, they have a right not to become targets of discrimination on their own campus."

And, ultimately, that inalienable right should also extend to women across the nation, not simply confined to the boundaries of a university campus, even if doing so requires a tenuous constitutional (and tactical) balancing act.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus