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In 1989, my mother gave birth to my big sister. A short while later, she fell pregnant again. My mum and my dad felt that they weren’t ready to go through another pregnancy so soon, so Mum terminated it. In 1992, Mum and Dad did feel that they were ready, and so I was born.
I owe my life to the fact that my mother had the choice to have an abortion.
During production for our ‘Free Speech’ issue, our ads manager Tim sent through the ad plan, as he always does on a Monday. Included in that plan was a half-page advertisement from Right to Life, an organisation that is anti-abortion. He asked if we were happy to print it. “Happy” is certainly not the emotion we felt, but we decided that yes, we would print it.
Partly it was because we didn’t want Tim to lose income (he works on commission). Partly because Salient had printed similar ads in the past. Partly because VUWSA have no clear advertising guidelines. Partly because we thought it would be fine if we added a disclaimer which stated that we didn’t agree with the ad.
But mostly because we thought, fuck it. This is the free-speech issue. If we’re ever going to run an ad with a controversial opinion, it’s in this issue.
The magazine came out. We received complaints about the ad. We met with the Women’s Group and decided that we would publish an apology and print a pro-choice advertisement in the following week’s magazine.
The apology came out. It received three times as many complaints as the original ad did.
I am sorry for printing that apology.
I am pro-choice. I believe that abortion should be removed from the Crimes Act. I believe pregnant people are the only ones who have the requisite knowledge to decide whether it is best for them and their potential child to bring the pregnancy to term, and I support whichever option they choose.
But I can’t ignore the fact that a large section of society believes that a fetus is a living human being, and by extension that abortion is tantamount to murder.
And although I’d like to, I can’t write them all off as religious nutjobs or stupid sexists or Conservative Party voters. Friends of mine hold those views. Intelligent philosophers and thinkers have grappled with the issue for millennia. If there is a clear answer in the debate, I’m yet to hear it.
But that doesn’t matter, because my point isn’t whether abortion is objectively okay or not. My point is that arguments for and against shouldn’t be silenced. On sensitive and debatable and important issues like abortion, they should be encouraged.
Earlier in the year, we ran a number of ads encouraging students to join the NZ Defence Force. An elderly mature student came into the VUWSA offices to ask us to stop running them. Some of his best friends had died at war and he thought it was an offensive ad to print.
But to stop those ads from running would have been an insult to all people in the armed forces, and to their proud family members. To some extent, we all owe our lives to soldiers who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. In the end, we continued to print the ads.
I think there is a danger in censoring things because they might cause offence. Because offence is so subjective, and it goes both ways. What is ‘so obviously true’ today is so often wrong tomorrow. If this was the 1950s, we would be censoring the pro-abortion side of the debate. That scares me.
Most importantly though, I think that to put controls on speech is to put controls on ideas. If anti-abortion views are never allowed to be printed, how do we find out about them? How do we know who holds them?
Some ideas are ugly, but we should put more faith in people to listen to all sides of the argument and make up their own minds about it.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But that should never mean I shouldn’t be allowed to voice my opinion.
In 1964, my (white, privileged, 17-year-old) grandmother fell pregnant to my (Māori, working-class, 18-year-old) grandfather. Out of wedlock. She was forbidden to marry and raise a child with a ‘native’. She didn’t have the choice to abort. So she gave birth to my mum, who was then whāngai-ed (adopted) out.
I owe my life to the fact that my grandmother didn’t have the choice to have an abortion.
Cam’s often wrong, but he loves a good, open debate. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know what he’s wrong about this time.