The elevator opened on my floor, revealing the bulletin board. “Welcome to Sonia and Paul’s 7/8!” This was normal. It was the picture of the fetus that caught my eye. On bright yellow paper, the poster said, “Natalie: Day 25. Did you know: my heart is already beating!” Below the fetus was a quote: “‘A person’s a person no matter how small.’ –Horton Hears a Who!”
Harvard Right to Life (HRL) has just launched a vicious campaign against Harvard women. This is not a policy initiative campaign or an awareness campaign. It is a campaign aimed at intimidating pregnant college women into not seeking abortions. To take the edge off, HRL has sugar-coated their message by couching it in childish language with a quote from Dr. Seuss and identifying the fetus as a little girl. Even the name choice is not benign: “Natalie” is derived from the Latin word for “birthday” or “born on Christmas,” with implications of the birth of Christ.
The HRL website schedule refers to this as “Natalie Postering,” which is a four-part event. The first poster let us know that Natalie is a girl and that she is growing. The third round tells us that on Day 49, Natalie’s skeleton has developed! Only time can tell what round four will bring—they come out today.
According to its mission statement, HRL is committed to “fostering an open dialogue” on the dignity of human life from conception through death and “increasing awareness to the Harvard community and beyond.” The Natalie campaign is not about awareness or education. Awareness posters inform students about pregnancy resource centers and remind them that abortion is not the only option. Slapping an oversized fetus on neon yellow paper, giving it a little girl’s name and using exclamation points is so inflammatory that it cannot qualify as educational awareness. The fetus is magnified 1000-fold, and important facts, such as the fact that Day 25 Natalie also has gills, are ignored. Instead, HRL is taking the abortion debate out of fact and rationality and into the distorted realm of manipulation. This is an attempt to give the qualities of a six year-old to a fetus no bigger than a pencil point in order to intimidate.
Nor are the Natalie posters designed to “foster dialogue.” Really, how does one respond positively to a yellow fetus on their wall? The posters are astutely designed to pluck the heartstrings of a scared 19-year-old college girl who just found out that she’s three weeks pregnant. Natalie is aimed at her emotions, and HRL is going to make sure that her heart skips a beat at the thought of baby Natalie every time she gets on the elevator and every time she walks past a bulletin board on campus. And just to make sure that she’s good and scared, they’re going to put up four rounds of posters.
The HRL mission statement says more: “In our efforts to end abortion, we advocate woman-centered solutions.” Memo to HRL: Intimidating the female population of your university is not a morally appropriate “woman-centered” solution. A “woman-centered” solution takes place when a woman is fairly informed of her options, and she chooses which option is best for her. Scaring a woman into a decision is terrorization. The campaign does not even suggest a “solution,” such as what an undergraduate who decides not to seek an abortion might do. Instead, the Natalie posters are aimed to elicit guilt. This approach labels women who seek abortions as Baby Killers, instead of giving them options. Stooping so low as to use guilt, not logic, is morally repugnant.
The smarter members of the anti-abortion movement realize that pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion—no woman feels good about an abortion, and salting that wound achieves nothing. (Keep in mind that despite decades of similar fetus-flashing campaigns, 1.5 million American women continue to seek abortions each year.) Instead of a guilt contest, the debate is two-fold: it is first a policy debate at the state and national level over a woman’s right to choose—which is just that, her right to choose. More importantly, it is a movement to increase pre-natal, adoption and foster care awareness and services to American women. Every year there are three million unplanned pregnancies in America, half of which go to term, as HRL would like. And every year, there are hundreds of thousands of these same babies in America with no place to go, floating from foster home to foster home in an under-funded and understaffed social services department that amounts to mass child neglect. (Florida lost a few kids altogether this year.) While this is going on, HRL has nothing better to do than hang yellow photocopies of fetuses in my hallway.
There are many effective ways to “promote the dignity of human life.” Making sure that the lives of the living are provided for is the best way, as is providing women with the information and resources they need to make good decisions. The anti-abortion movement has long fallen short in both areas, especially on this campus, where many women are unaware of options besides abortion. Flashing pictures of fetuses at 20-year-old women is an irresponsible reaction to this debate, and a morally inappropriate attack on women who desperately need information, not fear. Harvard Right to Life, you should be ashamed.
Arianne R. Cohen ’03 is a women’s studies concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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