The Abortion Gag Rule

by Jay Johansen

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The pro-choice movement has always stood for individual freedom, the right of each person to not only express her own views, but to act on them, to make her own moral choices. Right?

A case study:

The original billboard

The vandalized billboard
Greene County (Ohio) Right to Life put up some billboards like the one shown here, expressing their viewpoint on abortion. But vandals blacked out their text, and then painted their own words over it. As you can see from the picture, they did a very thorough job. This wasn't just some kid with a spray can and nothing better to do -- someone went to a lot of trouble. They completely painted out the original text, and used stencils to paint their own message. They changed the text from "Abortion: A child dies, a woman cries, every 26 seconds", to "Abortion: Every woman's right to choose".

(I apologize for the poor quality of this picture. It was the only picture taken before removing the sign, and as you can see, it didn't come out well. And lest you wonder, no, these are not pictures of the same billboard: we didn't take a picture of the vandalized one before the vandalism was done, so here I just show a picture of a different location with the same poster.)

In a way, the joke was on them: The loss to Greene County Right to Life was minimal. Someone who passed that sign every day on her way to work saw the vandalism and called them, so the "modified" sign was only up for a day. They had less than a week left on the billboard rental anyway. They talked to the advertising company that owns the space and decided that rather than put up another one of their posters for just a few days, and perhaps just see it vandalized again, instead they put up an extra poster they had left over from a crisis pregnancy center.

What happened to the pro-choice movement's vaunted love of individual freedom? They apparently found the idea that someone would express a viewpoint that they disagreed with so intolerable that they had to vandalize and destroy it. (They say that they're for women's rights: Did it matter to them that almost everyone involved in making and displaying this billboard was a woman?)

A few years ago, when Mr Reagan was president, the administration tried to pass a rule that would prevent federal tax dollars from being used in "counseling sessions" where women were encouraged to have abortions. The pro-choice movement ran a very successful advertising campaign denouncing this as a "gag rule". Their claim was that for the government to refuse to give them tax money to spread their viewpoint was censorship, and that this was intolerable. But we have seen, over and over again, that they have no problem censoring pro-life speech. In Florida, as I write this, they are campaigning against a proposal to have the state offer license plates with a pro-adoption message, with the proceeds to go to adoption organizations. To support adoption is to oppose abortion, they explain, and it is unconstitutional for the government to oppose abortion. Sex education programs that encourage abstinence have been routinely attacked as "religious indoctrination". Etc. And here they resorted to the simple but effective technique of vandalism. If you can't win an argument with logic and reason, try shouting your opponents down.

Oh, the pro-life movement is not worried about the loss of a billboard. As I said, they only had a few days left on that space anyway. The rental time was worth, what, twenty bucks maybe? But I find the irony quite amusing: "Pro-choice" people against allowing someone the choice to even express an opinion.

Of course, this really shouldn't come as a surprise. People who see nothing wrong with killing innocent babies for money are unlikely to have qualms about damaging some wood and paper.

Posted 4 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 2000 by Jay Johansen
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