The posters put up by pro-life group Unbroken and taken down by members of Trinity People Before Profit were nasty, cruel and intended to prey on the most base fears and concerns around abortion.
But they should have remained up. Not because free speech is absolute or because we should protect a right to offend and hurt, but because they act as a testament to the pro-choice side’s openness to debate even the most vile voices on the opposing side.
The scare-mongering of the posters contrasts with the humour many marchers brought to Saturday’s March for Choice. There was anger, certainly, but it was an anger supplemented by good-natured posters and arguments made with hope and rationality.
More importantly, the pro-life side must feel able to join a debate. They must feel comfortable coming on the airwaves and panel shows, because only then will the best arguments of the pro-choice side win out. Cherry-picking the views we choose to listen to is lazy and infantile. To win a referendum that could be more historic than the marriage equality campaign, we’ll have to have answers ready to each and every criticism, no matter how unfair or twisted.
A referendum is an argument, not a monologue delivered by one side to another. We need the logical, sensible argument – that we should trust women to make their own decisions about their bodies – to win out over the opposing concerns.
But that argument can only be heard if the debate includes pro-life voices – especially the most radical. It’s only by offering a platform to these voices that the ordinary voter can realise the flawed logic and, in many cases, the inhumanity, of groups like Unbroken. This is why taking down posters is the worst answer we can have to the narratives of the pro-life campaign.
Thankfully, so far, the public seem more open to conversations about abortion than our politicians. And if the Citizens’ Assembly – a micro-version of the national conversation we need to have – can recommend strikingly progressive abortion law, then we must have faith in the arguments of the pro-choice movement to win out, every time, over every pro-life argument.