Take a Seat, Not my Right to Choose

Anti-abortion billboards not just innocent messages

By Jaina Kelly

“It’s a matter of choice,” stated [redacted]. This statement was made regarding the option the public has to refrain from spray-painting their anti-abortion billboards. A matter of choice. The painstaking irony of a pro-life advocate defending personal choice is almost too much.

If you haven’t noticed, Orillia is time warping back to the early 1900s with two anti-abortion billboards now standing tall in the Orillia St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. At first, these eyesores appear as vaguely creepy baby photos, until you read the text that promotes a blatantly anti-abortion message to people passing by. Facing the West Ridge plaza and all its traffic, the two billboards read: “Take my Hand, Not My Life” and “Life the greatest gift of all.” After their original unveiling, the billboards were promptly vandalized with black spray paint by unknown vigilantes.

These signs aren’t just friendly reminders to have babies; they’re messages funded by a Catholic men’s organization in Orillia. If you aren’t familiar with the term “patriarchy” then examining this group of men is a sufficient way to understand this new term. Over thousands of years, women have historically been oppressed, controlled, and dictated to by white straight men. Especially through religious means, men have historically been making decisions for women and their bodies. Take a casual stroll through literary theory, philosophy, and history textbooks and you will see these patterns emerge like clockwork. 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed, “When a woman turns to scholarship there is usually something wrong with her sexual apparatus.” Yes, heaven forbid a woman possess intellect alongside a nice bosom.

Look, for example, at allegorical stories such as Adam and Eve. Punishing and controlling women for their choices has been a societal norm since the so-called beginning of time. These attitudes are embedded in society’s patriarchal culture, and still in 2016, men feel entitled and empowered to decide what is personally best for women. This isn’t cool anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. And yet, these billboards are standing in our Orillia cemetery, thanks to the support of one of the world’s most affluent and entrenched patriarchal religious organizations.

For women to get a fair shake in the workforce, they need at least some measure of reproductive freedom,” says Frank Bruni, in an article for the New York Times. While Bruni is on-point with this notion, ‘some measure’ is not enough. Women need full rights. Equal rights for women is synonymous with a woman’s right to choose abortion and/or contraception.

Certainly, the erectors of these billboards believe they are sharing a Godly, pure message with Orillia citizens. Following the vandalization, the billboard owner was interviewed by Simcoe Today, and stated their indignation of the offending act. They seemed shocked that anybody would do such a thing, offering  empathy, and claiming to feel “sorry” for whoever might be so inclined to destroy a message of God.

These anti-choice ‘messages of God’ are historically intertwined with the persecution of women. For people who have perhaps spent their whole lives following the doctrine of an anti-woman regime, these messages seem harmless and aligned with their reality.

These billboards were vandalized because they are not just harmless reminders of the blessing that children bring. Anybody can look up ‘cute baby videos’ on YouTube and be easily inundated with such reminders. These billboards are representations of oppressive religious structures that render women second-class citizens without the right to control their own bodies. Everyone can practice freedom of speech; however, if it eradicates the rights of a historically oppressed group, is it really worth saying?

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