Every year, Campus Ministry’s Voice for Life club displays rows of white crosses on our campus’ main quad in a demonstration called “Cemetery of the Innocents.” Each cross is meant to represent an abortion statistic - grave markers for aborted fetuses. Every year without fail, this display causes outrage among a section of the student body. Sometimes a student will be outraged enough to share their opinion on a public platform in an attempt to catalyze a constructive debate (keyword search “cemetery” in The Beacon’s archives if you’re interested).
The intent of this commentary is not to engage in the philosophical or ethical discussion on abortion and family planning. Rather, I want to draw your attention to the inefficiency of reactionary spectacles like Voice for Life’s abortion cemetery and encourage you to think about the harmful effects of public shaming.
According to the description on their webpage, Voice for Life claim that their club’s mission is to “show the injustice of abortion and support those in crisis pregnancies through education, prayer and service.” I would argue that the cemetery demonstration accomplishes none of these goals.
First, the cemetery does not show the injustice of abortion, it shows the injustice of a society and culture that permits behaviors like rape and domestic abuse to exist, behaviors that force women into difficult and involuntary situations.
Second, the cemetery does not “support those in crisis pregnancies” at all. It publicly shames, humiliates and vilifies every woman who has had an abortion and those who might be contemplating one. Does the Voice for Life club really think that women who are experiencing the incredible emotional and mental burden of an unplanned pregnancy will feel supported by the display and be moved to seek the club’s help?
Third, the cemetery does not “educate” anyone. I guarantee that the students, faculty, staff and employees on this campus already know that abortion procedures exist and what their outcome is. The club’s time would be better-served educating men and women on how to practice safe, consensual sex. It is a fact that increasing sex education reduces unwanted pregnancies.
Fourth, while I recognize that I attend a Catholic university and respect its policies, I would ask that the Voice for Life club and Campus Ministry also recognize and respect the individuals on campus that do not wish to be inundated with pro-life rhetoric on their way to lunch. Considering that prayers are effective anywhere, I do not understand why the cemetery cannot be displayed in a more discrete location, where individuals can pay their respects privately and voluntarily.
Lastly, how is the production of the cemetery an act of “service?” Taking everything into account, I have to wonder who actually benefits from this demonstration. Women and girls troubled by their unintended pregnancies? Pregnant women and girls who have had abortions? Pregnant women and girls that plan to have an abortion? Men? Future mothers? Unborn fetuses? Anyone?
Danielle Knott is a senior history major and the president of the Feminist Discussion Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.