Obscenity laws leave us covering our eyes

Protesters hidng behind a wall labeled "Freedom of Speech" hold up bloody signs towards a mother and a child. The mother covers her child's eyes.
Illustration by Kia Kortelainen

Images of aborted fetuses have no place in public spaces, as they leave a graphic and mentally intrusive impression on onlookers of all ages who have no choice in their viewing.  

An anti-abortion protest staged in downtown Kingston earlier this month bombarded unwilling passersby with manipulative and disturbing images of aborted fetuses. The images abounded in shock value, but presented little context to clarify the circumstances of each little subject they were using to promote their platform. 

The protest was met with an unfavourable reaction from most passersby, one of whom was taken into police custody for throwing paint at the protesters. 

Despite receiving a large volume of complaints, Kingston Police were unable to intervene. Legally, the images aren’t deemed obscene. 

The ins and outs of the debate over abortion rights are delicate and extremely personal to many people. These signs have the potential to evoke trauma associated with a miscarriage, either accidental or purposeful, which isn’t to be disregarded. We must temper our discussions with respect for the lives of those that are the topic of conversation.  

As well, young impressionable children exposed to these images will lack the contextual background to make sense of the gore. With no knowledge of the legal and ethical complexities of abortion rights, children will simply form an association between the topic and the graphic images, creating a prejudice that contaminates rational argument. 

The laws defining obscenity also  lack consistency. Banning harmless nudity, for example, seems arbitrary if instead you can be confronted with images that cause serious mental disturbance. 

On a public street, content isn’t censored. While this is an essential quality of a democratic society, it leaves particularly vulnerable members of the public open to sometimes misleading and traumatic experiences. 

Even though their actions may have been legal, the protestors crossed a line. The reactions of those who were walking past are evidence of the cheapness of these tactics.  Blunt, provocative protests elicit blunt, provoked responses.  

Graphic images without context that aim to shock and manipulate don’t invite intelligent discussion. Instead of appealing to sense and objectivity, this protest merely appealed to an emotional reaction. 

There’s little value in an argument that’s so unsubstantiated. 

— Journal Editorial Board

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