On Campus

Graphic anti-abortion displays have no place near schools

Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform targets children

An anti-abortion group in Calgary has decided it is appropriate to take up on public sidewalks and parade graphic displays in front of public school students.

The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform did a tour of sorts last week, visiting at least 12 high schools and setting up poster boards of aborted fetuses in order to win over young supporters.

“Our philosophy is if someone is old enough to have an abortion, they’re old enough to see the aftermath of an abortion,” Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, told the National Post. “Many of these young people are having abortions because they haven’t seen what an abortion looks like.”

Of course, that’s beside the point. While the group isn’t technically breaking any laws, the choice to demonstrate outside public high schools is dubious at best. These types of graphic displays have typically been erected on university campuses, where they have already met their fair share of conflict. But whereas the university campus is absolutely a reasonable forum for such a demonstration, the space outside of high school pushes the ethics of public pandering.

First off, nearly all of the students on university campuses are adults. The opposite is true at high schools. The anti-abortion protesters are essentially demonstrating to children, who—unlike university students on sprawling campuses—often can’t take an alternate routes to classes. Plus, those under 16 are required to be there by law, and so, in an ideal (perhaps kinder) world, they shouldn’t have to worry about being barraged with graphic images on their way to ninth-grade geography. University students are on campus by choice, and are often morally self-assured enough to be able to critically absorb and analyze such a demonstration.

It is true that inside high schools, most kids are exposed to other graphic imagery. However, it’s usually accompanied by some sort of context and discussion. High school students learn about drunk driving, the effects of smoking and drugs, and unprotected sex and STIs — but they are usually warned beforehand about graphic images and encouraged to express concerns in a controlled environment.

Holding up a poster of a bloody fetus provides none of the context, and little of the tact required when dealing with sensitive teens. As well, whereas we can pretty much all agree that driving with a six-pack is not a great idea, the ethics of abortion is a little murkier. Graphic imagery is fine for concerns that are more or less universally shared, but trudge through dangerous ethical waters when used in conjunction with more contentious issues.

The issue is not about being pro-choice or pro-life. The issue is about finding an appropriate venue for a morally controversial and graphic demonstration. The sidewalk outside of a public high school is certainly not the right venue.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.