As the abortionists and their supporters in the Ontario government seek an injunction banning pro-life activity, the media have played a very important role – and have done real damage to the pro-life movement.
Media accounts of the pro-life picketing regularly portray pro-lifers as dangerous fanatics. Abortion clinic operators have been quoted alleging that clients have been assaulted, shoved to the ground, had insults shouted at them and had their earrings ripped off. Attorney General Marion Boyd appeared on a London radio show to claim that pro-life activity at abortion sites has included the spilling of blood on women. The picture is painted of a very nasty scene which any responsible person would want to see stopped.
Pro-life leaders have only been allowed limited rebuttal time. What has been reported cannot undo the damage caused by the abortionists’ claims. The first news stories all follow a pattern. The abortionists’ charges were followed by pro-life spokespersons saying that the injunction would be a denial of fundamental freedoms. The media left the outrageous allegations of the abortionists unchallenged.
When Campaign Life Coalition held a press conference to specifically deny the charges, again a pattern emerged. After reporting the pro-life leaders’ claims of innocence, the news stories referred to the shooting of Florida abortionist David Gunn and the fire-bombing of the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto.
The killing of the Florida abortionist and the fire-bombing of the clinic have no connection at all to the injunction being sought. No one who is inclined to murder or to bomb a clinic is going to be held back by the existence of a court order. Indeed, the Toronto fire-bombing occurred at a time when pro-life protests at that location were prohibited by an injunction. It is unfair for the media to raise these two incidents when neither is the work of any pro-life group.
The reference to those acts has a powerful impact. It serves to plant in the minds of readers and viewers the notion that anti-abortionists are fanatics. This is part of a long running campaign. In speaking of his opponents, Henry Morgentaler first and always calls them “fanatics.” Various television dramas have portrayed anti-abortionists as hypocritical, obsessed and irrational. News portrayals of anti-abortionists always emphasize the individual’s religiosity – a reminder that the individual follows a creed and cannot therefore be considered reasonable.
The portrayal of pro-life people as fanatics has a devastating impact. It means that pro-life people, even when given media time, will be unable to get their message across. Very simply, their words will not be believed because it has already been established in the minds of listeners that those doing the speaking are fanatics, and everyone knows that fanatics have no regard for the truth.
As the abortionist becomes more and more the respected figure and the pro-life person the fanatic, certain very valid arguments become useless. For example, it seems reasonable to assume that anyone who is willing to take human lives on a daily basis is someone who would be willing to lie about the activities of protestors who stand outside his or her office. Such an argument, as reasonable as it is, simply cannot be made in a public forum. It will not be comprehended in a society which portrays the abortionist as the respectable party in the dispute.
Another great problem which results from the media coverage is that some pro-life people come to believe the news reports of pro-life harassment. I suspect that in workplaces and at social gatherings across the country, perhaps thousands of pro-life people have said something like: “Yes. I’m pro-life. But, I certainly don’t agree with what those demonstrators do at abortion clinics. People say such things because they believe what is reported in the media.
When people with pro-life convictions distance themselves from the movement, it makes effective action on behalf of the unborn much more difficult. Any effective social movement requires that the plans of its leaders receive the support of a large group of followers. An element of trust is essential. Pro-life people are less likely to make themselves part of the national movement when they have already disassociated themselves from organized pro-life activity such as picketing abortion sites.
Overcoming the stream of disinformation which the media puts forth remains one of the greatest tasks facing the pro-life movement. When pro-life leaders question or attack the media, they are not motivated by some petty concern about their public image. Rather they are doing something that is essential if the struggle to defend the unborn is to succeed.