Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Animals and Abortion Part 2: Similar movements?

Hello readers of Abortioneers and Abortion Gang! Welcome to the second installment of our Animals and Abortion series, hosted by Vegan Vagina and ProChoiceGal. You may remember our last post, which dealt with how PETA gets things wrong. Today we are blogging about intersections, similarities, and differences between the animal rights movement and anti-abortion movement. We received some good comments in response to our first blog that started to address the tactics used by both movements and we wanted to delve deeper into the issues, so here we go…

Q. Can you give a brief overview of some of the perceived similarities between the animal rights movement and anti abortion movement?

VV: First off, I do want to acknowledge that there exists much diversity within each movement and not everyone uses the same tactics or even has similar philosophies about how to impact change around their issues. However, in regards to the “extreme” members of both movements, in terms of similar tactics I immediately think of the gory images that both groups use. Anti abortion trucks will parade near shopping malls and community events (especially where kids congregate) with alleged fetuses that were aborted plastered across the exterior of their vehicles. These fetuses will be positioned next to dimes for size comparison and they are often portrayed sucking their thumbs or curled up. Animal rights groups often show animals that are mistreated in factory farms and this past year a well-known group, Mercy For Animals, launched a Farm to Fridge tour where they went city to city showcasing the horrors of factory farming.Another similarity that I see is coercion; anti abortion groups will convince pregnant women to keep their babies with the alluring promise of baby clothes, financial support, jobs, or housing. Mercy for Animals was offering money for people to watch their footage of factory farms and often does “feed-ins” where they provide vegan food samples.

A final similarity is violence. Many members of both movements feel violence is justified in order to take down leaders at the top. While those who advocate violence are in the minority, their extreme actions can have a huge impact. Abortion clinic workers are murdered, stalked, injured, harassed, etc, or threatened with these things constantly. CEOS who run animal testing facilities and labs are also stalked and threatened, and a common tactic of arson has done millions of dollars of damage to facilities that partake in animal cruelty. A common tactic used by both movements is picketing outside of homes and distributing fliers to neighbors in order to shame those who support abortion or animal cruelty. Members of both movements are tracked on FBI lists and are often labeled as domestic terrorists. I am currently reading a great new book by Will Potter that outlines the history of “eco terrorists” and there are many mentions to the anti abortion movement and how the government tracks crimes against abortion providers differently than eco crimes (I really recommend this book!).

Q. Do you think that gory images are an effective way or converting people, either to veganism or to anti-choice?

PCG: In general, no. There are exceptions, but I believe that gory images and videos, especially when they're forced upon the public, generally turn people away from both veganism and from the anti-choice movement. Whenever I hear people react to anti-choicers flaunting alleged aborted fetus photos in public, their reactions are always, without exception, angry, annoyed, and all around negative. This holds true for veganism, as well. I believe that one of the worst things that a movement can do for itself is forcing people to look at these kinds of pictures. People just do not react well to it in my experience.

Q. Did gory images or videos influence your decision to become vegan?

PCG: Somewhat. Gory photos and videos would not have given me enough of a push by themselves to convert me to veganism. They were, however, a small part of the big picture. I almost definitely would still be vegan even if I had never seen gory slaughterhouse videos and pictures. The thing is, I didn't need those pictures and videos to know that animals are sentient beings who are very capable of feeling pain. What I needed to push me to choose veganism were facts. For example, for the longest time, I had no idea that there was so much cruelty involved in the dairy industry. I did not know that it was so closely linked to the veal industry. It was facts like that that got me from saying "I could NEVER give up cheese!" to being the vegan I am today.

VV: I went vegetarian without ever seeing a gory picture, but I will admit that a PETA brochure is what pushed me over the edge to become vegan. The images still gross me out when I see them and I choose to look away, but it’s ok for me to look away because I don’t need convincing. I fear that everyone else looks away and just chooses not to think about the processes involved in where their food comes from, so ultimately the animal rights movement could spend their money in better places that won’t be ignored.

Q. Vegan organizations and anti-choice organizations have both been known for using coercive tactics to convert people to their movement, such as putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of people who oppose them, paying people to watch gory videos, etc. How do you feel about this?

PCG: I disagree with coercive tactics being used to convert people. I consider them not only morally wrong, but also highly ineffective. Putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of "higher ups" in order to shame them is a tactic that both groups have used in the past. I find this behavior awful. To me, it's stalking behavior. Anti-choicers have been doing this for ages, in order to shame, stalk, and draw attention to abortion providers and their families, and the pro-choice community knows very well that it incites violence. As for paying people to watch gory videos, while I think this is wrong, I actually don't think this is as bad as just flaunting huge gory pictures outside in public, so that anyone who walks by has no choice but to look. I also don’t see it as an effective way of converting people. Again, gory videos and pictures which are not backed up with facts hardly ever do any good.

VV: I disagree with any group or movement using coercive tactics, specifically money to win people over to their point of view. I also feel it is not a sustainable way to change behavior, because the money will eventually go away and people will go back to their usual ways.

Q. Do you think it's fair to compare the tactics of animal rights groups to the tactics of anti-choice groups?

PCG: I believe that vegans and anti-choicers are coming from two vastly different belief systems. As far as the message behind the movements, I see absolutely no comparison. Vegans fight for the bodily autonomy of sentient beings while anti-choicers do just the opposite. However, vegans and anti-choicers have both resorted to some of the same tactics. As a vegan, I think that it’s intensely important to recognize the problems that reside within veganism and to take action to fix them. Still, despite these similarities, I don’t think that the problems within vegan activism are nearly as prominent as those in the anti-choice movement. For example, when vegans resort to problematic bullying tactics, it’s targeted towards the “higher ups” in animal abuse. When anti-choicers resort to bullying and stalking tactics, it’s targeted towards absolutely anyone who opposes them. Veganism does have its problems which we need to recognize. I just don’t think that these problems are as extreme as the hatred that goes on within the anti-choice movement.

VV: Obviously since I am vegan my natural tendency is to support most tactics used to convince the entire world to GO VEGAN. Although, I realize it is something people need to come to on their own, without coercion or bribes. However, people often need education on this issue since we are really told nothing about where our food comes from, and sometimes a picture of the reality of what animals goes through does hit home. I do not think this is the same as what anti abortion people do; I think their images are falsified and manipulative and taken out of context.

Thank you for reading the second installment of our series Animals and Abortion! You can look forward to more posts soon, including posts on topics such as vegan birth control, vegan sex toys, and more. Also, your feedback and ideas for future posts are more than welcome! We hope that you enjoyed this installment of Animals and Abortion!


  1. Thanks for this. Very interesting - and of course it sparks comments.

    1. "Violence" is a broad term and needs to be defined, i.e., murder is violent but is property damage "violent?" Are verbal or written threats "violent?" VV seems to class many forms of activism as "violence" even if it does not result in bodily harm or is not directed at an individual.

    2. Graphic images and "coercion:" What people personally believe is effective may or may not be data-supported, and it's unfair to dismiss this tactic because of a personal belief or preference. I have worked in this field professionally for 5+ years. In the case of airing factory farm video footage, documentaries, leaflets, etc., my equally anecdotal evidence is that it *is* effective, at least temporarily. It is supported by research data that media coverage of animal welfare stories, which are usually accompanied by graphic footage, results in a (self-reported) decline in consumption.

    Like violence, "coercion" justifies definition. It's a lexical stretch to say offering someone a vegan cookie, or a few dollars to watch a brief video, is coercive.

    Thank you again for a great discussion.

  2. Great post! I am an animal advocate and am in the process of learning more about the pro-choice and anti-choice movements, so I find this blog post very interesting.

    I don't have much to add to the discussion here, but as someone that regularly does "Paid Per View" (giving people a dollar to watch a four minute version of I find it to be very effective. Only people that elect to watch it will see any of the images, and after watching it many people say that they want to go vegetarian or reduce their meat consumption, or at the very least are shocked and want to learn more.

    Honestly though, most people shrug at the idea of earning a dollar and either walk away, or watch it for free (they refuse the dollar, or they take it and put it in the donation jar after they see the video). The dollar advertisement is more of a way to grab people's attention, which it does, with probably more than half the participants giving the dollar back or refusing it in the first place - not really caring about monetary gain.

    I also feel that offering someone a dollar to watch a four minute informative video in a public setting and telling a woman they can help her with getting a job, financial support, baby clothes, etc. if she doesn't get an abortion are so drastically different that saying they are similar is a stretch.

    Just wanted to put in my personal experience and 2 cents.


  3. Loving this series. I'm going to recommend it to my vegan friend.

  4. @Kenny, fair enough, since at least a voluntary viewing booth seems different (to me) from a giant poster on the sidewalk. On the other hand (I don't want to speak for our two writers here) I'm not among the pro-choice people who feel that the signs are, in themselves, disgusting and upsetting. Abortion does in fact involve tissue and blood -- and of course, most of that blood is the patient's, because the embryo derives nutrients from the blood-rich endometrium. Like, have you ever seen a delivery? There's blood all over the place; doesn't mean there aren't tons of people who gladly give birth and/or support others' decision to do so! Same with pretty much any surgery; a lot of them look downright brutal compared to a typical abortion.

    So the reason I find the signs "disgusting" is that they're dishonest -- they prey on people's gut reactions to blood as a sign of danger/violence/harm; and they often use fetuses much more developed or large than one would see in 98% of abortions (sometimes these are actually the bodies of miscarried or stillborn babies!); and the rest of the time they enlarge the image to many times its actual size in the hopes that making an embryo look baby-sized will somehow work better. And the reason they're "upsetting" is that the pictured embryos, fetuses, and stillborns were not theirs to take! Often they are ill-gotten and one has no idea whether this would be felt by the once-pregnant woman as insulting, violating, devastating etc -- which could be the case whether the pregnancy was wanted OR not wanted. Ugh I feel morally nauseous just thinking about it. Anyway! In short, thanks for sharing your reflections with us :)


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