The young winners of the Susan B. Anthony List's Pro-Life Film Contest raise a difficult question: are kids appropriate advocates for an anti-abortion message?
I'll be honest — I'm always extremely uncomfortable when I see children at anti-abortion protests, and these videos provoked an even stronger reaction. In twelve-year-old Anthony Matzke's film above, and in this song by an eleven-year-old girl, children tell the stories of their mothers' decision not to abort them. While I don't think the kids themselves are trying to manipulate viewers, the films come off as a bit disingenuous — "look at this cute, earnest child," they seem to be saying, "who almost got aborted." And as much as it makes me angry when an adult tries to tell me what to do with my body, it's even more disturbing when a kid — someone who has no experience making reproductive decisions — does so. Finally, I'm concerned that these kids, especially the ones in the "12 and younger" category, don't yet have the experience or wisdom to evaluate the positions they're supporting — some of them haven't yet learned how to spell the words in their arguments.
At the same time, I'm not sure how I'd react if this were a pro-choice film contest. When young girls express feminist views, I usually think they're awesome — I don't shake my head and say they're too young to understand equality. Of course, some issues are more complex than others, and while even very young girls may have faced gender discrimination, I think it's harder for the average 11-year-old to have a full understanding of the issues surrounding pregnancy (the teens who entered the competition may understand these issues better). There's also a problem with the films themselves, which in some cases seem chosen for shock value. "Choices," the winner in the 13- to 18-year-olds' category, centers on disturbing photograph of a stillborn child, on which the camera lingers. The message is that because this child's death was a tragedy for his family, all abortion is also a tragedy. It's not a fair argument — the right to choose doesn't devalue the pain of women who have chosen pregnancy and then faced a child's death. But as with so many anti-abortion protests, the images make clear that "Choices" is an appeal to emotion, not reason.
There's a pretty big part of me that recoils from the whole contest simply because I don't agree with its premise. But I also hope that all the young winners are growing up in environments where they're allowed to come to their own conclusions. I hope that these films were their idea and theirs alone, and that they come from homes where they can change their minds if they want to. The whole thing reminded me a little of a conversation I had with my brother and an older cousin when my brother was about seven years old. He asked my cousin what a "conservative" was. The response: "a conservative is a bad person." At 12, I didn't really like conservatives either, but I also didn't like to hear my little brother being told what to think. I took him aside and tried to give him a more nuanced explanation of the right and left in American politics (although it probably wasn't that nuanced, since I was in sixth grade). Since then, I haven't always been so open-minded, and my now-grown brother sometimes has to call me out for demonizing people (most often, people who don't agree with me) without knowing enough about them. I hope the kids who entered the Pro-Life Film Contest have someone to do this for them.