Andrew Lawton

Andrew Lawton

If something is false, you don’t need to censor it. If it’s true, you shouldn’t. Nevertheless, there’s an inclination from those less confident about their beliefs to shut away uncomfortable truths things they can’t or don’t want to explain.

Graphic abortion imagery forces viewers to confront the reality of abortion, which is why so many people want these materials relegated to places where no one can see them.

The latest such push comes from Windsor, Ont., from a woman who says she was “disturbed” by a Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform pamphlet dropped in her mailbox earlier this summer.

The woman, Lauren Crowley of Feminists for Action, couches her desire to censor with the same “think of the children” rhetoric that seems to be employed every time this issue arises. “In addition to frightening a child who might come across those images, you’re also forcing those parents to answer questions or have conversations that they might not be ready to have with that child,” she said in a Blackburn Newsinterview. “Which is in turn interfering with that guardian (sic) right to raise that child how they deem fit.”

Crowley lobbied city councilors to impose a bylaw ban before eventually moving onto a media campaign. The Blackburnstory about her efforts “has chosen not to publish the images” supposedly warranting a ban, so readers are left to assume the worst.

I don’t doubt that it’s unpleasant for many people to look at these pictures, though free speech is meaningless if it doesn’t protect things that make us uncomfortable. Many Canadians dislike sexually suggestive advertising and photos of accident scenes in news reports, yet these things are part and parcel of living in a free country.

The complainant seems to think these pamphlets are akin to that infamous A Clockwork Orangescene in which a teen is forced to watch films with his eyes pried open and his head secured, so he can’t look away.

“We all check our mail,” Crowley said. “You’re going to pull this out of your mail. It’s going to happen. You are not giving somebody the option to walk away from it.”

Sure, you have to see it to decide what it is. But everyone has the right to throw away a pro-life pamphlet or take its message in earnest. The same argument could be applied to an advertisement on a billboard or someone holding a sign on a sidewalk.

We can always look away, but we can’t redact the world around us.

It’s never just about the medium, either. Censors certainly discuss it in these terms so it seems like they’re just seeking a small concession, though ultimately they are trying to marginalize a particular viewpoint out of existence.

In my experience, parents who complain about their children seeing graphic abortion imagery are actually trying to avoid answering questions about how killing unborn children is not only legal in Canada, but perfectly desirable within a segment of the population. Even Crowley’s own words concede a lack of readiness to have such a discussion.

Behind the loud and proud pro-choice advocates, I’m convinced there are many with an internal moral torment about abortion. It’s a lot easier to support in the abstract, without seeing what abortion actually looks like.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon to use legislation to block such revelations. Readers are surely familiar with the bubble zone law in Ontario prohibiting pro-life demonstrations near abortion clinics. Calgary has a bylaw barring non-commercial material from being placed in mailboxes of homes with “no flyer” or “no junk mail” signs, enacted after complaints about CCBR pamphlets.

Though there have also been some free speech victories with these issues. In May, Calgary Transit officers ticketed a pro-life activist for “distributing printed material” at an LRT station without “consent” from the city. After the man threatened a constitutional challenge, the government withdrew the ticket.

Freedom of speech should never hinge on what side of the issue someone falls on. With emotionally charged subjects like abortion, however, it’s a lot easier to silence those on the other side rather than debate them.

Remember that totalitarianism often creeps in instead of barging in. The same rationale one would use to stop a pro-life pamphlet from being put in a mailbox can be used to stop someone from protesting on a sidewalk, and even beyond that.

When the facts are on your side, there’s no need to be afraid of the other side.