The New Anti-Choice Rhetoric

Feminists for Life and the Rhetoric of Choice

The New Anti-Choice Rhetoric

The FFL Ad Campaigns

College Outreach Program





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Presently, Feminists for Life’s main focus is spreading their message across college campuses.  After all, according to statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s May 2010 report, women between age 18 and 24 procure 44% of all abortions in America. 

Simple and cost effective, flyers are one of the most powerful ways to reach a college community and generate interest (or controversy) in a cause.  If groups are effective, flyers can be put up in prominate spots across campus including unions, dorms, academic buildings, and even bathrooms to make sure that everyone on campus sees them.  Thus within the span of just a few days, thousands will have heard any given group’s message. 

But flyering has its own set of particular challenges.  A flyer is often one among many on a bulletin board, and other upcoming events will quickly cover it.  Moreover, bulletin boards are often located in places where students walk past on their way to other areas, and though some may pause to read a flyers information, the flyer has only the briefest of seconds to grab the viewer’s attention and hold it  long enough so that the viewer will read some of their message. 

This is probably the mindset behind the minimalist strategy in the flyers that make up the College Outreach Campaign designed by Feminists for Life.  Though each flyer has a different pro-life message, common stylistic themes run throughout.  Each features a bold black background that frames a single black and white picture (which is also an issue of common sense practicality for college students who can’t afford or have access to color printing).  These pictures act as a way to highlight the question or provocative statement, likewise set against the black background, that seeks to re-frame the abortion debate, as FFL describes it, “putting a face on choice.”

Rebecca Kiessling’sflyer, “Did I deserve the death penalty?” brings a number of controversial issues all together on one page.  The picture of Rebecca, a pretty woman with blond hair eyes, placidly looking at her audience, utilizes the power of understatement to create a sharp juxtaposition to the question posed.   The death penalty is an issue that draws heated emotions on both sides, and plays on an argument frequently thrown against the pro-life community.  The question draws then one in, and one is curious, what could such a nice looking girl have done to have been convicted of such a terrible sentence?  When one leans in closer, one learns that Rebecca was conceived in rape.  She tells her viewer: “My ‘crime’ was being conceived through rape.  So the next time you hear people talking about ‘exceptions’ to abortion for rape and incest, think of me. My name is Rebecca. I am that exception.” 

Likewise, the following two flyers seek to add a layer of humanity to the fetus.  Few can resist adorable pictures of babies, and FFL takes advantage of cuteness here.  They also emphasise humanity in the flyer “Would You Say That to My Face?”  in which a strong black man in a wheelchair gives a voice to those with “gross fetal abnormalities.”  

These efforts to humanize certainly have weight, however, they leave much left unsaid that pro-choice proponents would find especially important.   After all, no one would disagree that it would be a crime to kill Rebecca, the babies, and the black man now, however, people vehemently disagree about the personhood of the fetus.  Whether it is a person, or whether it just has the potential to become a person.  FFL makes the assumption for its audience that the fetus is a person without fully engaging in the debate.   Some also might say that by leaving out this distinction, the ads become manipulative.  Additionally, the flyers don’t say who would execute Rebecca or make babies the enemy, but the implications created lean towards a more tragic frame that vilifies the opponents. 

Their usual comic approach, though, with their appeal to helping and empowering women is seen in the rest of their flyers.  Using images of beautiful girls from numerous ethnic backgrounds, they speak to a number of different issues.  Some question the meaning of choice and the lack of support for pregnant women, a la Foster’s “Case Against Abortion.”  Others speak out to girls who have had abortions and may feel isolated and hurt; they establish that they do not wish to blame, but rather to help. Another offers inspiration to current anti-abortion advocates and contradicts a prevalent idea that anti-abortion advocates are all old white men by showing a group of young women rallying in opposition to abortion.  The Susan B. Anthoy ad uses a sarcastic sense of humor to identify the group with the original founders and heroes of 1st Wave Feminism and refutes the myth that feminists can’t be “anti-choice.” 

Ultimately, the effectiveness of these flyers cannot be known (though, one can find an interesting account of The University of Victoria’s reaction here and here),  but as long as they remain readily available for download on the website, one can be assured that anti-abortion groups will be hanging them on campuses throughout America.

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