Genocide Awareness Project misleads deliberately
By Kris De Welde, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology
This op-ed was published originally by Eagle News in the spring of 2010 when The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) visited our campus. It was published a second time in 2012 when the group returned. Today, spring of 2014, this op-ed remains as necessary reading as long as groups like GAP continue to visit our campus. Additionally, our attention to rhetorical and visual manipulation in the interest of anti-choice groups is especially relevant on the heels of a year when abortion (and birth control) has been threatened and restricted in many states. In the last three years, we have experienced legislation exceeding 200 anti-choice measures in 30 states. And while some may rejoice about this, it is devastating for all women, for families and for the prospect of gender equality in our society.
Do not believe everything you See
This week, our campus is the target of a grotesque exhibit of billboards displaying dismembered fetuses alongside actual genocide victims. The displays are sponsored by a group called the “Genocide Awareness Project,” (GAP), which is organized by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), and the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. To begin, any vibrant university campus must encourage a diversity of opinions, and must protect the expression of those opinions, particularly if they are controversial or unpopular. But, when a gross (mis)education campaign comes to our community to scare us, shock us, and twist facts, we are no longer in the realm of reasonable ideas.
When the Center for Bio- Ethical Reform uses “genocide” in an attempt to characterize the very private and complicated decisions of millions of individuals, they distort the issues and demean those who are making the difficult decision to undergo a legal medical procedure —while simultaneously trivializing the very real, persisting crime of genocide, the slaughter of actual living and breathing women, men, and children, losses that should be honored respectfully, not watered down with irresponsible analogies.
And speaking of irresponsible, even though comprehensive sex education and universal access to birth control have been found to delay the onset of sexual activity in teens, increase use of contraception among sexually active teens, women and men, and thus reduce the need for abortions, CBR is opposed to both of these preventative strategies. That’s right, they oppose birth control and factual education about it. Whoever controls the use of language has the power to shape reality, so it’s not just their cooptation of “genocide” that is problematic. No one is “pro-abortion;” most people are genuinely “pro-life,” and many “prolifers” (those who value life) are also “pro-choice!” Anti-choice groups such as CBR feel so compelled to eradicate choice that they resort to distortion and misinformation via a manipulative campaign that is far from accurate. Displaying images of dismembered fetuses accompanied by false parallels with “historically recognized forms of genocide,” galvanizes those who oppose abortion, primarily on religious grounds. It also has the intended effect of horrifying, but not necessarily educating, those who know little about abortion, human rights, genocide, and manipulation via imagery. If it is students’ primary task to learn to think critically about the world around them in college, GAP’s upcoming presence on our campus serves as a unique opportunity to consider truths, myths, and spin, and to recognize how biased groups often resort to emotional manipulation rather than facts to sway us.
One of CBR’s foundational principles is that the Constitutionally-protected right to choice (and privacy) results in a violation of human rights. And yet, they do not acknowledge that reproductive rights, including but not limited to access to safe and legal abortion, has been deemed a fundamental human right for women across the globe. Is the United States in the business of denying some human rights in exchange for others? Are we anointed with the task of assigning a hierarchy of human rights, such that some should have more protection, more rights, than others? Isn’t it this the kind of thinking that motivates genocide? Where are the wretched images of unwanted children in a tragic foster care system, of women’s graves who died during childbirth because they did not have access to safe and legal abortion? Where is the information about the overwhelming humanity of women and their great track record on taking care of children and families? Where is GAP’s information about women (and their male partners) being responsible, which often involves making difficult choices? Where is their attention to the importance of liberty, the ability to control our bodies, and to respond autonomously to the horrific reality of rape or incest that results in pregnancy?
Many of the images CBR displays via their “awareness project” present a serious distortion of the reality of abortion. Ninety percent of abortions occur in the first trimester (see http:// www.guttmacher.org/), and yet the images they utilize to shock you and me are of late term abortions, which incidentally are illegal in much of the US, and are almost always performed for emergency medical reasons.
Very few people take the decision to end a pregnancy lightly. The effort to equate that decision, often arising out of the difficult conditions created by the society in which we live, with Nazi death camps only demonstrates that CBR and their (mis)education campaign reflects no comprehension of what victims and survivors of those events have suffered, and no comprehension of the complexity of reproductive rights. They also have no compassion for the women who find themselves faced with a legal, but very challenging decision. Perhaps a little less propaganda via a “shock” campaign and a whole lot more accurate information would go farther in raising “awareness,” and shedding light on this important set of issues. GAP has the right to visit our campus, but rather than exercise that right to educate based on facts, they resort to cheap political tricks. If we as a society truly want to limit abortions, we should focus on comprehensive sex education, universal access to birth control, equal job and educational opportunities for women and girls, and the eradication of poverty. Do not believe everything you see, and especially if what you see is meant to upset and disturb you. Get informed, and don’t be blindsided by misinformation. And, to my students and colleagues who have had abortions – you are good people, and I’m sorry that this group intends purposefully to traumatize you.