What do you call it?
Ads about drinking during pregnancy raise questions about our attitude toward abortion in Canada
If you’re like me, and seem to spend approximately 40 hours a week stuck in Winnipeg rush hour on your commute to and from the university, then perhaps you’ve noticed the rather interesting advertisements plastered along the sides of certain city buses.
I’m talking about the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission’s recent ad campaign designed to heighten awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the dangers of mixing alcohol with pregnancy.
The ads picture a smiling, expectant mother showing off an ultrasound photo, next to the caption “Be With Child, Without Alcohol,” a slogan that is significant.
At first glance, these ads may appear like any other public awareness campaign.
However, they seem to be representative of a recent spike in media attention regarding various controversial issues surrounding pregnancy.
For example, in a similar attempt to highlight FASD, the Winnipeg Free Press’s online edition is currently featuring a series of special articles under the heading “Wounded in the Womb: the tragic legacy of mixing alcohol and pregnancy.”
A few weeks ago, a local Catholic school raised more than a few eyebrows when its students staged pro-life protests outside of the Health Sciences Centre.
Across the border, the state of Mississippi narrowly voted against a proposal which would have recognized the personhood of the human fetus from the moment of conception, with all kinds of far-reaching social and medical implications.
All this raises some interesting, and certainly prickly, questions surrounding our society’s paradoxical attitudes towards the unborn.
For instance, consider Canada’s current legislative restrictions on abortion. Actually, you can’t consider them - we don’t have any.
Fair enough, we may say. After all, we’re a free and democratic society dedicated to upholding a woman’s right to exercise choice with regard to her reproductive health.
OK, but how does such a standpoint square with that of the aforementioned anti-FASD campaigns?
Think about the paradox: if it is wrong (as suggested by the Free Press and MLCC campaigns) for a woman to knowingly consume alcohol while pregnant, due to the harm that may come to the fetus, then how is it socially acceptable for a doctor to surgically dismember and dispose of the same fetus in a routine abortion procedure?
One pregnant woman has a beer and we’re all up in arms because of the potential damage she’s doing to her unborn child - but the same woman can go to a clinic and have her fetus forcibly suctioned from the uterus and it’s business as usual.
Am I the only one who sees the irony here?
Ultimately, the key issue here is one of definition: is a fetus human from conception, or not?
If yes, then we have to question our country’s current lack of abortion legislation.
After all, no self-respecting citizen of a democracy would actually be OK with the legalized killing of a non-consenting, innocent human being.
But if a fetus is not human from the point of conception, then when does it become so?
This is a tricky one, as any attempt to pinpoint some later date at which a fetus becomes human must be innately arbitrary and politically motivated.
Unfortunately, this important issue is so often prevented from seeing the daylight of intelligent public discourse because of the extreme reactions it provokes from so many.
Furthermore, the rhetoric surrounding a “woman’s right to choose” tends to act more as a smokescreen which redirects attention from the real issue: the humanity, or lack thereof, of the fetus.
It is my hope that rather than continuing to ignore the embarrassing contradictions in our treatment of the unborn, we will instead choose to address them, uncomfortable as the process may be.
Jon Kornelsen is a fifth-year education student at the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 66, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 17, 2011)