Do you really find that there are people who will not stop to discuss abortion intelligently while you display victim images, but will discuss it if you don't? How in the world can you tell? I used to think something along those lines, but then I noticed that at least as many people blew us off when we went to campus with text-based signs only.
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You do know that nearly every "abortion image" is either from unreliable sources, from countries where abortion is illegal, or straight up fake. It is immoral to try and bully people and telling others what to do with their bodies, especially when you have no knowledge of safe and legal abortion practices and how it can save women's lives.
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Some pro-life groups have used fake images in the past. But the images used in the ERI brochure (and by most other modern pro-life groups) have all been authenticated by affidavits (from the photographer as well as from a former abortion practitioner) that:
  1. The photographs came from clinics that perform elective abortions and
  2. That the given gestational age is correct.
    ERI doesn't bully people, they set up displays on university campuses and have conversations with people interested in what they have to say. Abortion images are shown only to those that consent to viewing them.
    I don't think it's immoral to tell a pregnant woman that she shouldn't drink alcohol (which is linked to FASD), even though that means we're telling her what to do with her body. Likewise, I don't think there's anything wrong with telling a pregnant woman that she shouldn't take mifepristone (given that it kills a human being if it works as designed).
    Here is a video of one of these legal abortion practices:
    It doesn't look very safe for the person being ripped apart, and unfortunately most are done on healthy mothers carrying healthy babies.
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Very insightful commentary. I enjoyed the article Kristan Hawkins wrote as well. However, I disagree with her argument that the first two videos were effective despite lacking any graphic images. While they're certainly horrifying and show that Planned Parenthood is likely breaking several laws, they're not remotely on the same level as the last scene of the fourth one. Hearing Deb Nucatola, Warren Hern, or Anthony Levatino describe late-term abortion is not at all comparable to watching Planned Parenthood staff pick through the remains of a little boy that will never see the light of day or be given a name. That terrible scene conveys the truth, that these are human beings (1) and this is not how any civilized society ought to treat human beings (2), in a potent way that the first few videos cannot. I think that on this website we have a tendency to treat the abortion issue like a mathematical problem, reducing it to abstract philosophical concepts like bodily autonomy and "de facto guardians" and the metaphysics of personhood. The video serves as a reminder that we're really talking about killing little boys and little girls - a point that we often lose track of.
That being said, Hawkins' other points were good. The video was powerful because it actually shows what goes on inside an abortion clinic (rather than just displaying the body), and because the audience knows right from the beginning what they're about to see. I'd like to contrast the CMP videos with the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform's latest campaign (which, if you're not aware, involves going door to door and placing postcards with a picture of Justin Trudeau's face next to a picture of an abortion victim in every mailbox). The CMP videos are a game-changer, even with the muted media coverage: every presidential candidate has weighed in on them, public support for Planned Parenthood is declining, moderate pro-choice columnists are seriously reconsidering their positions, and many of Planned Parenthood's most powerful political allies are distancing themselves from it (even though they ultimately find a way to rationalize funding the organization with tax money to the tune of $1M+ per day). CCBR's campaign, on the other hand, only seems to have angered parents of young children and made mail carriers uncomfortable with delivering the postcards. We don't see the top political leaders debating the content of the postcards or promising to reform Canada's abortion law, and most people don't seem to have any idea what the purpose of CCBR's campaign is. I could be completely wrong - maybe people are changing their minds, and media bias has stopped me from seeing the rest of the story, but at least intuitively CCBR's campaign doesn't look like it will be an effective one. I feel really bad for saying this because I know that Stephanie Gray, Alissa Golob, and others working with CCBR are nice people who have done far more for the unborn than I have, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for them (especially since Canada literally needs all the help it can possibly get).
I also like how you acknowledge that different people need different approaches, so you embrace pro-life groups that use different strategies than yours. There are some people that ERI won't be able to reach, because they need to see a hard-hitting display before they'll even consider talking to a pro-life activist. Conversely, there are some people that Priests for Life and Created Equal won't be able to reach because the images scare them away.
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Thanks for your thoughts here. Two quick thoughts to hopefully add clarity.
I don't think Kristan's argument was that the first two videos were the most effective. I think her point was merely that they became viral and were really effective even though they didn't have the graphic images in them. It's a response to the people who use graphic pics on signs who argued that the CMP videos were "proof that the graphic picture debate is over."
I think that's clearly not the case. People who clicked on those videos were in a different mindset than someone exposed to graphic images of abortion without warning. They sat down and clicked on a video about abortion, and those that do have graphic images give two warnings each, one at the beginning, and another one later before the images are shown. The viewer opts in and is in an environment that feels safe to them. It's actually very similar to how we want to use the images.
As far as reducing abortion to a math problem, I sure hope we don't do that! I think it's definitely a danger when talking about philosophy a lot. We actually say at our seminars that there is a danger when spending a lot of time speaking philosophically about abortion to unintentionally sound like we think abortion is merely a Rubik's Cube to be solved. It's not. Abortion is the brutal killing of an innocent baby. There was literally weeping in our office watching the CMP videos. After making the Rubik's Cube comment though, we add this: "But if we are going to respond to the most intelligent arguments that the pro-choice side has to offer, we're going to need to respond with more than emotional arguments and graphic pictures. We need to respond with philosophical arguments that demonstrate that our position is worth thinking about."
Here are a few pieces we've written hoping to get at how people ought to feel emotionally about this issue:
Thanks again for your comments. You've given me a lot to think about.
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Thanks for the reply. Regarding Kristan Hawkins, I said in my previous comment that I think most of her arguments are good. I agree that the CMP videos certainly do not end the debate over abortion victim photography. That being said, however, she still seems to deny or at least downplay the significance of the thing that sets the fourth video apart from the first few (the "war-torn" corpse of the little boy, and the reactions of the Planned Parenthood staff). So I stand by my earlier assessment of the article.
I've been following your work for quite a while now, and I know that you don't actually think abortion is like a mathematics problem or a Rubik's cube. I appreciate the honesty in the two articles you linked, and it really says a lot coming from a veteran pro-life activist. This quote pretty much describes exactly how I felt when I saw the fourth video:
When I get upset, I have an immediate impulse to take all of my opinions with a grain of salt because I feel like I’m not in control. I’ll tell Josh “my compass is broken right now,” meaning I don’t trust my intuition, just like I wouldn’t trust a compass that I thought might not be pointing north.
Yesterday I emotionally broke down, but for those few minutes my compass was pointing true north. I’m less emotional now, and I trust my compass less.
At the end of the article about the OMSI exhibit, though, you write that some days you don't feel as sadly about abortion as you ought to and that you are sometimes disconnected about how awful it is. This really sounds a lot like what I said above: unintentionally (and probably subconsciously), there is a tendency to act like the abortion issue is an abstract philosophical exercise. The blind spot is still there, even though you’re aware of it and are trying to avoid it.
Regarding philosophical arguments, I think they’re important to a certain extent. However, they have severe limitations. As your friend Trent Horn (who is even more philosophically-minded than you are) puts it, philosophy makes people so smart that they turn into idiots. Let’s suppose that critics of the pro-life position come up with a very intelligent argument for legalized abortion that we’re unable to counter (perhaps after years or even decades of trying). Question: should we become pro-choice if that happens? I believe there are very good reasons to say that the answer is “no”. This sounds strange, but let’s look at an analogy. Zeno of Elea was a philosopher in ancient Greece who proposed that motion is impossible because in order to walk across a room, for example, you would need to first walk halfway there. Afterward, you would need to walk half the remaining distance, then half the remaining distance, and so on. Because this would add up to an infinite number of tasks, and it’s impossible to complete an infinite number of tasks, it’s impossible to walk across the room.
The first person to challenge this argument was Diogenes of Sinope, who demonstrated that the conclusion is false simply by getting out of his seat and walking across the room. Philosophers don’t like his “rebuttal”, of course, because he didn’t actually refute any of Zeno’s premises or show why his logic is wrong. The most common strategy for countering it requires a knowledge of infinite geometric series, limits, and (if we want to be really precise) delta-epsilon proofs – the latter of which wasn’t developed until the 19th Century. Even today, there are still some philosophers that reject this argument (and other proposed solutions to Zeno’s paradoxes).
For thousands of years, Zeno and his supporters arguably had the better argument. Some would say they still haven’t been adequately countered. Yet no serious person actually believes that motion is impossible. Walking across the room is enough to show that the conclusion is self-evidently false, and that the whole analysis is nothing more than an amusing intellectual exercise. The CMP video is to pro-choice arguments what walking across the room is to Zeno’s paradoxes – it doesn’t directly refute them, but it does demonstrate that abortion is a barbaric practice that no just society can tolerate.
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"Question: should we become pro-choice if that happens? I believe there are very good reasons to say that the answer is 'no'.”
Agreed, and I think the reason is that the caring part of our minds cannot use philosophy/logic, and the philosophical/logical part (being committed to dispassion) cannot care. Only the part of our mind that cares, that says something matters, can take a moral, prescriptive stance -- can say "should" or "shouldn't." The logical part can discuss the should's but cannot feel them, so it cannot quite lead us to those feelings. It can lead us close to the door of moral intuition / prescriptive feeling — with luck very close — but in order to pass through and feel the intuition, feel that something matters, we have to leave logic behind.
And Zeno's proposition, which you say has been so difficult to disprove, was not even a moral proposition.
Even if we assume that the unconscious out of which our moral intuitions come, formulates those intuitions through philosophy/logic, our conscious philosophical/logical powers are limited and may never be able to replicate that logic.
I have thought about these things http://www.noterminationwithoutrepresentation.org/moral-intuition-logic-and-the-abortion-debate/.
there is a danger when spending a lot of time speaking philosophically about abortion to unintentionally sound like we think abortion is merely a Rubik's Cube to be solved. It's not. . . . There was literally weeping in our office watching the CMP videos. After making the Rubik's Cube comment though, we add this: "But if we are going to respond to the most intelligent arguments that the pro-choice side has to offer, we're going to need to respond with more than emotional arguments . . ."
If I understand correctly, your distinction here is between only two factors involved in decision-making for oneself and in the persuasion of others. (The persuasion of others means influencing the decision-making of others.) The two are discursive argument / logic / rationality, and emotion.
And one point you make is that you don't want to sound like you have suppressed your emotions (or presumably to actually suppress your emotions). You call the possibility of doing that a danger.
But there is another factor, which you have sometimes referred to, in decision-making on moral issues (or influencing decision-making), and that is moral intuition.
(Distinguishing between emotion and moral intuition: Suppose that tomorrow morning I read in the news that half a million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to die of starvation within a month. And suppose that on that same morning I drop my cell phone and it breaks. I may be more upset about the cell phone than about the starvation. That upsetness is an example of emotion. But if you tell me, "Your cell phone can be saved or the half million people can be saved, you have to decide," an inner voice will tell me that the half million people should be saved, and I will follow that voice. That voice is my moral intuition about that particular situation. And I think that in many people, that voice will often override their emotions.)
And, along with there being another factor, I think there is another danger: believing that we can prove a moral point through discursive argument / logic / rationality* without reliance on a moral intuition that is not at all rational -- that comes out of our unconscious in some way we cannot understand.
  • Or even advancing our arguments as if we could prove a moral point through discursive argument / logic / rationality, while perhaps acknowledging, as a formality, that we cannot.
    [Edit: In other words, is the abortion issue or any moral issue ultimately a Rubik's cube at all, ultimately tractable to discursive argument / logic / rationality at all? (Not to deny that those are very important tools.)]
    I think the danger is that our discussions will be no more productive than they normally tend to be. I think they will become more productive if we can become more aware of the limits of discursive argument / logic / rationality, and what causes those limits to exist.
    I have tried to think about the ways our discussions will be more productive http://www.noterminationwithoutrepresentation.org/moral-intuition-logic-and-the-abortion-debate/, in a short section called The Practical Implications.
Excellent post. I especially appreciate the point that images can be faked so easily; no wonder many people are skeptical. I generally believe the movement should use images more often...but definitely not always and not in all settings. It definitely requires wisdom and discernment...and boatloads of love.
We also have them in our outreach brochure, including a brutal 20-week abortion image that is more graphic than any image I’ve seen almost any other pro-life group use. (Click here to see it. Warning: It is very graphic.)
I thought "Surely I've seen it before," so did not heed the warning to prepare my mind. Wow. I would like to borrow it for one website. Am I free to do so, and can you provide the documentation as to its authenticity?
There’s also a growing phenomenon of students thinking they shouldn’t have to deal with emotionally sensitive topics on their campus (which is stupid).
Or is using their intelligence in service of a cause that they committed themselves to because of some emotional payoff. Is there any correlation at all between intelligence and objectivity?
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We received permission to use the abortion images that are in our brochure from Created Equal, who were very generous to us. I don't own the rights to the images, thus can't transfer that to someone else. You could feel free to reach out to them though.
We know quite a bit about the circumstances behind the taking of the abortion images we use, and are very comfortable with their authenticity. Here's a signed statement from the abortion photographer: http://www.createdequal.org/files/authenticity_pixelated.jpg
I'm not aware of any studies on the correlation (or lack thereof) between intelligence and objectivity.
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