Blair: Unproductive Accusations

by Peter Blair | 4/22/12 10:00pm

Last Friday, Andrea Jaresova published a column criticizing Vita Clamantis' "Cemetery of the Innocents" display ("Unproductive Discourse," April 20). Jaresova's piece is a masterwork of misunderstanding, willful ignorance and fallacious reasoning. But it's worth addressing because parts of it do capture the general campus feeling about Vita's flag display. Although I am a member of Vita and helped with the planning and execution of this event, this column expresses only my own opinion.

Jaresova's column is a particularly potent example of the tendency of ideology to distort reality. She claims, for example, that Vita members were not present at the display. This is just false. Since Vita is a small group, there were brief periods throughout the day when all of its members were in class or otherwise unavoidably occupied. But for most the day, Vita members were present at the site. Jaresova also conveniently neglects to mention the large amount of intimidation directed at Vita members throughout the day. A peaceful and lawful display raises her ire, but she can't muster even a gentle condemnation of, for example, the fact that a car ran over the display.

Jaresova argues that the display was "extremely ineffective in fostering what could have been a thoughtful conversation." But what evidence does she offer for this claim? From her column, it appears that she did not attend the discussion forum Vita hosted the night of the event, which was well-advertised in advance, contrary to her assertions. Had she attended, she might have found that one of the outcomes of this discussion was widespread agreement between Vita and its pro-choice critics that more needs to be done to support pregnant women on campus.

Indeed, one audience member suggested that we create a separate coalition dedicated to supporting pregnant women on campus, and several people unaffiliated with Vita who in fact were hostile to the display signed up to join such a group. This is not an insignificant outcome: Even if this new coalition, should it materialize, is able to help even one Dartmouth woman get the resources she needs to keep her baby, I would consider it an immeasurable success.

Jaresova's main point, however, is that the display was unproductive because it hurt and alienated women. This argument has often been leveled against even the mildest of pro-life demonstrations, even ones like Vita's that try to minimize their sensational impact (Vita did not display pictures of fetuses mutilated by abortion, as many pro-life groups do). It is almost impossible to advocate at all for the pro-life cause without offending someone. But this does not give us pro-lifers a decisive reason to be silent.

Imagine if you believed the pro-life claim that 54.6 million actual human lives had been lost in the last 40 or so years in America due to abortions. Nobody can really comprehend the scope of this tragedy. Given the beliefs of pro-lifers, it would be deeply perverse on our part not to try to raise awareness about this issue. People like Jaresova want to domesticate the pro-life movement by confining it to arguments and methods that are acceptable to pro-choicers. They prefer that we only discuss, for example, resources for pregnant women, expanded welfare and non-penal ways to reduce abortions.

Pro-lifers like myself do and will talk about these issues, but we cannot stop there. We cannot in good conscience stop making the moral claim that abortion involves taking a human life. This will always offend people, but in order to free the pro-life movement of all potentially offensive material, pro-lifers would have to soften their understanding of the radically tragic nature of abortion. This we cannot do.

Abortion is an ugly thing that hurts women as well as the children lost to it. We should react strongly to it. We should be emotionally upset by it. I do not think that it is wrong to be upset by abortion or by displays conveying the simple statistic of its occurrence. There are some things that must be done that people are morally required to do even if they give offense. Giving public witness to the evils of abortion is one of them.

**Peter Blair '12 is a co-founder of Vita Clamantis.*