Fredericton Mayor hindering or helping anti-abortion campaign?

The comparison Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside made last week between two anti-abortion groups and ISIS is very interesting in two respects.

Mr. Woodside, reacting to a graphic post-card campaign, Face the Children, by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) and Campaign Life Coalition Youth (CLCY) who were targetting Liberal leader Brian Gallant for his promise to remove “barriers to access” to abortion, was quoted in The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton):

“It’s no different than if ISIS (an extremist Islamic group) started placing pictures of decapitated journalists in peoples’ mailboxes,” Woodside said.1

The comparison is interesting, firstly, because it indicates that Mr. Woodside has completely misunderstood the intent of the graphic anti-abortion postcard campaign. By him likening the campaign to a hypothetical campaign by ISIS terrorists placing photos of their beheaded victims into peoples’ mailboxes, Mr. Woodside seems to think that these anti-abortion activists are celebrating abortion. The ISIS terrorists are bragging about and celebrating the beheadings. The very opposite is the case with this anti-abortion campaign. CCBR and CLCY are condemning abortion with their postcard campaign. They are trying to show what abortion is and why in their view abortion is a bad thing.

Secondly, Mr. Woodside’s comparison is also interesting with respect to the category of victim he has chosen to compare aborted fetuses to: beheaded journalists. It is doubtful that anyone would try to argue that journalists are not ‘human beings’—but that is precisely what is at the heart of the abortion controversy: is the fetus a ‘human being’?

So why would Mr. Woodside choose to compare aborted fetuses to beheaded journalists, who are clearly human beings? Why did he not instead compare aborted fetuses to, say, clubbed baby seals?

By comparing pictures of aborted fetuses to pictures of beheaded journalists, Mr. Woodside would seem to hold the view that the fetus is a human being just as a journalist is. At the very least, he seems to think, even if only at a subconscious level, that the human fetus is more like a journalist than a baby seal, for example.

But why is this so interesting? It is interesting because in spite of Mr. Woodside’s seeming recognition that the fetus is in the same category as a journalist, his further comments indicate he holds no sympathy whatsoever for the anti-abortion activists who are behind this “disgusting campaign.” He wants them to “jump in their van and take their crap and go back to Ontario” and he says that what they are doing “crosses into a category of pornographic.”

Of course, if as discussed earlier, Mr. Woodside has misunderstood the intent of the anti-abortionists’ campaign, and believes they are celebrating abortion rather than condemning abortion, and furthermore if he does believe that the fetus is a human being just like a journalist is, then it would make sense that he wants CCBR and CLCY to “take their crap back to Ontario.”

But is the Mayor of Fredericton really unaware that CCBR and CLCY are against abortion, especially since he has encountered this campaign before, according to this article?

It is difficult to believe that Mr. Woodside really believes that CCBR and CLCY are in favour of abortion. But if he does know that these two groups oppose abortion, then we are back to the second interesting point noted above: that while he puts the human fetus in the same category as the journalist — and he clearly believes that beheading journalists, who are no doubt fully human, is wrong and would undoubtedly support protecting them — he has very harsh words for those who would try to protect fetal humans.

Put simply, Mr. Woodside is not being logically coherent in his comments in response to this graphic post-card campaign.

Assuming he actually knows CCBR and CLCY oppose abortion, his impassioned criticism of them and their graphic campaign together with his recognition that aborted fetuses have something in common with beheaded journalists, seems to suggest that a part of him is uncomfortable about what abortion involves.2 This discomfort with abortion, which he may not be consciously aware he has, seems to be the only logical explanation that could account for Mr. Woodside’s inconsistent and impassioned remarks.

Paradoxically, Mr. Woodside’s own intense negative response to the Face the Children campaign may have reinforced the very message the anti-abortion activists were attempting to convey.

  1. “Mayor tells group behind anti-abortion campaign to leave,” Heather McLaughlin, The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton), September 17, 2004.
  2. This discomfort would be perfectly understandable. All seven Justices in the Morgentaler decision recognized that the fetus, which was at least “potential life,” was worthy of some protection by the state. (The Supreme Court avoided the question of whether the fetus has an independent right to life.)

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