New paper: Campus Campaigns against Reproductive Autonomy

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ActiveHistory.ca is pleased to announce the publication of Carol Williams’s new paper: “Campus Campaigns against Reproductive Autonomy: The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform Campus Genocide Awareness Project as Propaganda for Fetal Rights“:

In October of 2013 and 2014, the University of Lethbridge campus community was subjected to a visual spectacle staged by the Centre for Canadian Bioethical Reform or CCBR. CCBR is a subsidiary, or branch plant, of the California-based Centre for Bio Ethical Reform or CBR. These organizations are pyramid-like businesses who present themselves as concerned civil rights advocates working on behalf of fetal autonomy and other “traditional values.” Employing a range of carefully-crafted campaign strategies, and citing civil rights precedent, their political conservatism is not entirely transparent. Yet, political endorsements to “reform” civil society and policy are evident on their respective websites. For example, Mark Penninga, of the Lethbridge based Association of Reformed Political Action writes:

. . .we need a visionary strategy to open the eyes of Canadians to the evil that is being hidden behind the language of “choice.” CCBR’s efforts are an important component of that strategy. For the political arm of the pro-life movement to be effective, Canada needs these educational efforts.

The organization’s social conservatism contends that “liberal” values and perspectives including tolerance for same-sex relations and marriage, and “abortion, sexual liberation, pornography, new reproductive technologies and euthanasia . . . endanger the status of the traditional family” (Snow 2014, 154). As online endorsements clarify, CCBR strives for formal political change. The graphic display campaigns as witnessed at the University of Lethbridge signify a move by social conservatives to strategically rebrand themselves as advocates of human and reproductive rights.

Figure 1 Genocide Awareness Project, University of Lethbridge. Photograph by Don Gill. October 2014.

Figure 1 Genocide Awareness Project, University of Lethbridge. Photograph by Don Gill. October 2014.

While the CCBR displays and websites simplify the rivalry between liberal and socially conservative concepts of the individual, family, and public order, both liberals and social conservatives have, in fact, utilized litigation as a means to mobilize public opinion on moral issues (Snow cites Lessard 2002, 237 in Snow 2014, 156). Following the 1982 introduction of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, litigation was adopted by “interest groups” because political leadership tends to avoid decisive action on “morally sensitive issues.” The courts’ importance has therefore risen in tandem with political preference towards “judicial mediation” regarding “moral disputes” (Snow 2014, 154; 160). As Petchesky observed in 1987, the “anti-abortion movement made a conscious strategic shift from religious discourse and authorities to medicotechnical ones [to conceptually frame arguments for fetal viability and autonomy], in its efforts to win over the courts, the legislatures, and popular hearts and minds.” Paternal-medical “experts” like Bernard Nathanson— impresario and anti-abortion crusader—were recruited to legitimate a visual and moral text that granted the fetus a “public presence.” Nathanson’s visual exposition, popularized in the broadcast of the video, The Silent Scream (1985), explained how the “science of fetology” allowed spectators to “witness an abortion—“from the victim’s vantage point.”” Thus mass culture became “the vehicle for this [tactical] shift” rather than the medical profession although medical discourse served as authority (Petchesky 1987, 264-265). And so, as Petchesky convincingly argued, The Silent Scream resided in the “realm of cultural representation rather than of medical evidence” with the film’s moral and political imperative being “to induce individual women to abstain from having abortions and to persuade officials and judges to force them to do so” (267). [Continue Reading…]

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