In Ohio, an anti-abortion group is scheduling a “fetus” to testify for the pre-viability abortion ban based on the earliest detection of a fetal heartbeat. The fetal heartbeat can be detectable as early as 18 days–much sooner than most women know that they are pregnant. As constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe has put it, “What they’re doing is trying to push the point at which the woman’s rights are subordinated to those of the unborn to a much earlier point in pregnancy. … It’s clearly a frontal challenge to Roe v. Wade.”
In a move reminiscent of the so-called TSA porn scans in airports, the anti-abortion group is planning to bring a pregnant woman before the House Health Committee in Ohio and project an ultrasound image of her uterus onto a screen in front of the legislators. The image will show the nine-week-old fetus’ heartbeat in color. The group is also that touting the fetus will be the youngest-ever legislative witness to come before the House committee.
What this visual display of emotional manipulation reminds me of are the Humane Society commercials that tug at your heart strings through a montage of sad, abandoned dogs. This move by the anti-abortion group is a blatant emotional manipulation to get what they want–i.e., subordinating women’s rights to those of the unborn. As a culture, our emotions are more easily swayed through visual appeals than through the most eloquently phrased verbal argument. Our guts and our hearts react to visual stimulation, whereas verbal arguments rely on persuading the head and the intellect. Convincing the head and the intellect are much more difficult because that particular task takes much more time, effort, and attention–and, let’s face it, Americans have an incredibly short attention span and are constantly inundated with new information and sensory stimuli. The anti-abortion movement understands this well and exploits this to their advantage.
The pro-choice movement needs to get better at making visual arguments that invoke emotion–arguments that don’t take too much time or attention, but that do leave a lasting impression because it is related to a sensory memory. Recently, however, MoveOn.org got this pretty much exactly right in a PSA they put together starring Lisa Edelstein. As a pro-choice movement, we need to do more of this.