Irrational Discourse

Irrational discourse: In 2004, when Iraqi terrorists beheaded American Nick Berg and posted a horrific video of the murder online, we watched it. One time. Not out of morbid curiosity, we like to think, but to get better informed about the barbarians Americans are up against.

Were we wrong to do that? Some of our acquaintances thought so.

Given our decision, it's not surprising that Buzz wasn't offended by some truck-mounted billboards that rolled through Dallas last week featuring large, full-color pictures of aborted fetuses. Besides the bloody images, the ads included the word "Choice" and a Web address——linking to the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a national anti-abortion charity. (Their site opens with a graphic video of an abortion.) The ads were in Dallas last Wednesday through Saturday, following stops in other Texas cities.

Now, Buzz is as pro-choice as they come. So why, unlike some readers of the Dallas Observer's blog, where another writer posted an item about the ads—wasn't Buzz bothered by the ads? Because if you're going to join the debate, we figure, you gotta know what you're talking about.

Oddly enough, that's something that we agree on with Bill Calvin, Kansas/Missouri director for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform and president of the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, an abortion-alternative center in Kansas City. The ads, he says, are simply data. "We're convinced we live in a visual age," Calvin says, and the ads are intended to define abortion simply and directly, to give their viewers something to think about if they consider an abortion or when they vote.

But, we asked Calvin, do they work? Pro-choice folks get offended; the anti-choice choir gets another sermon. Who's persuaded? "It works. There's no question it works," he contends. His group has heard from women who came to its Web site to complain about the ads, only to end up offering support. An emotive, visceral image can turn those who live in the mushy middle of the abortion debate. Is an appeal to emotion as valuable as a rational discussion over choice, life and privacy?

Images of slavery, of war, of civil rights abuses—even of torture at Abu Ghraib—powerfully altered public discourse, Calvin points out. "Every one of those social movements confronted these cultures with the evil," he says.

Of course, any surgical procedure is going to look messy and violent, so maybe the pro-choice side can counter with ads featuring episiotomies or the expulsion of afterbirth. But no, that would be a vulgar appeal to the masses.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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