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Problems Solutions and Trade Offs

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Occasionally, a columnist must issue an apology for something he wrote that, while seeming correct at the time, later proved to be misguided. Today, is one of those occasions where I must take the time to write a retraction concerning a column I wrote some time ago. Although it has been roughly four years since the column appeared, I am still compelled to offer an apology.

The issue concerns the use of pictures of the aftermath of abortion and whether the pictures should be displayed on college campuses, which are obviously populated by scores of women who have, in fact, suffered through the trauma of abortion. Four years ago, I took the position that the pro-life movement should not be doing that. The publication of that opinion constituted a serious error of judgment on my behalf. Accordingly, I offer an apology to my readers as well as an explanation of how I arrived at that incorrect conclusion.

Liberals have a tendency to think in terms of problems and solutions, not in terms of tradeoffs. We see this all the time. A liberal will identify a social problem. Then, he will attempt to identify a solution. The bad news for the rest of us is that the liberal “solution” usually involves government intervention, not private initiative.

The “problem” I identified four years ago came from a survey on campus censorship – one that I gave in my Introduction to Criminal Justice class every semester. I simply asked which book they would like to see banned from the library and which person or group they would like to see banned from campus. I then moved into a discussion of how the growing tendency to censor (with government backing) threatens our campus environment.

For years, the KKK and the Black Panthers vied for first place among the groups my students would most like to ban from campus. Then, in 2008 I was hit with a shocking new development: students voted “pro-lifers” as the group they most wanted to see kicked off campus. Their reason was simple: they sometimes showed pictures of aborted babies.

I saw this as a “problem.” Therefore, I wrote suggesting a “solution.” The solution was that we, as pro-lifers, should voluntarily abandon the practice of showing such pictures on campus. I did not advocate government backed censorship – the kind of advocacy we expect to hear from liberals. I just thought that voluntary abandonment of the practice would be the best “solution.” In retrospect, the suggestion was more than just naïve. It was stupid. And I am very sorry I ever wrote the column.

Living in an imperfect world among fallen people does not generally facilitate finding solutions to problems. Life is not that simple. Instead, it involves the making of decisions involving trade-offs. The decision of whether pictures of aborted babies should be displayed – even on campuses among those who have experienced abortion – is no different. So I should not have approached the issue like the liberals analyzing things within a problem/solution framework. I should have examined the trade-offs.

Put simply, the use of graphic abortion pictures on college campuses will upset women who have had abortions. They will also upset men who have financed abortions – especially those who actively pressured women into having them. But a greater number of people will be awaked to the fact that abortion involves the dismemberment of innocent human beings. Confrontation with those pictures will put the lie to the assertion that the unborn is nothing more than a clump of cells. The confrontation will draw an unmistakable moral distinction between the picking of a scab and the termination of a pregnancy. There may be negative aspects to showing the pictures. But they are far outweighed by the information they convey and the moral impulse they compel.

Put simply, we cannot enable those who would deny the American Holocaust in order to reduce emotional discomfort. That is not an acceptable trade-off. It sounds more like a final solution.

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