Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Censorship or Tactical Maneuvering?

In advance of spring break, Pro-Life Wisconsin recently submitted an ad to several college newspapers in the state, and is now crying foul because 3 of them have not yet printed said ad. It's an interesting case where one has to wonder whether Pro-Life Wisconsin cared as much about getting out its message about making healthy choices as it did about being able to scream about being censored.

The Badger Herald lays out the claims in the ad itself:

“Be good to yourself over spring break,” the ad reads. “Make smart choices the night before … that way you won’t have any emergencies to deal with the morning after!”

It also says emergency contraception is a powerful, high dose of steroids that “tricks a woman’s body into thinking it is pregnant” and can cause “chemical abortions and deadly blood clots.”
Newspapers at the Marquette University Tribune, the UW-Stout Stoutonia and the UW-La Crosse Racquet were the only three of many to not print the ads in their most recent editions. Contrary to PLW's claims that the ads were outright rejected, however, it seems that at least Marquette and La Crosse Racuet are still considering the ads, concerned over the claims made about whether EC really causes "chemical abortions and deadly blood clots."

I suspect that most people would agree, leaving out any talk of a specific controversial subject, that taking proper time to investigate potentially inflammatory and misleading claims in an advertisement before running it is doing journalistic due diligence. I wish more TV stations would do the same thing before running blatantly false political ads, for instance.

However, wedge abortion into the mix and people tend to fly off the handle without considering all of the facts.

Instead of this being a case of due diligence, it's censorship! Take a look at the comments section under the Badger Herald article for a few good examples of this kind of thinking. One bold anonymous poster says "There is no excuse for the UW System newspapers to reject the Pro-Life Wisconsin ads. The public universities shouldn't be able to discriminate against more conservative views." But this isn't a case of discriminating against conservative views. It's a case of discriminating, in the positive sense of the word, against potentially false and/or harmful views.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Emergency contraception medicine is not the same as the "abortion pill." A woman who knows she is pregnant takes the abortion pill with the intent to end an early pregnancy (usually 4 to 7 weeks after conception). Emergency contraception pills are taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy from occurring." (emphasis mine)

The risk of "deadly blood clots" is extremely low, and the same as what's associated with taking regular birth control pills.

I don't pretend that the issue of abortion isn't an extreme gray area. All the arguing in the world will never convince some people that it's right or wrong, and that's fine. I take issue when other people start telling me what I should or should not be allowed to do with my own body, and I apply that to both sides of the debate.

The problem here, though, is that we are not talking about abortion. EC, otherwise known as Plan-B, doesn't cause an abortion, it prevents fertilization of the egg in the first place. If you believe that an unfertilized egg constitutes a life the deserves protection, then you might as well forbid women to menstruate. That's as good as telling us that we should be pregnant at all times from puberty through menopause, and you'll forgive me if I take extreme offense to that (not to mention think that you're very silly).

You might think that view is far-fetched, but judging by another comment left under the Badger Herald article, I'm led to believe that there are those out there whose views aren't too far removed:
It's not at all surprising. This is why so many people want to come to America to party--our women are wordly known as promiscuous and preferencing "successful" occupations over motherly duties. Our women have the sexual undiscipline to say "yes" to consensual sex, especially since most of them are chemically induced agreements, then the ungodly nerve to say "no" to the outcome. Abortion is not just murder, it's idolatry--the females are preferring a career without a child, befroe a career with a child.
Apparently there are still folks out there who think of women as nothing much more than baby machines, and that's really fucking sad.

In the end, I applaud the editorial boards of those three papers for taking the time to consider the claims made in those ads. I would urge them to do the same for any ad making potentially unsubstantiated and harmful claims, no matter what end of the political spectrum they fell on. Ad copy is a different beast from news (which may contain unsubstantiated claims in the form of direct quotes, which is fair game), and should be treated accordingly.

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