Readers’ letters useless if they mislead
Suzana Vukic, Her Voice
Suzana Vukic is a freelance journalist, columnist and writer from Montreal, Canada, who reports extensively on the Balkans. She is also a member of the International Expert Team of the Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada.
Until recently, any letters from readers I’ve received have been respectful. Even in cases where our opinions differed, it’s always been possible to discuss a point with tact and decency. But that changed the day I started discussing abortion.
Recently I received a letter from a reader – an off-island resident (male, of course), who, in response to my most recent column, The right to life, posted an excerpt from an online website, the Elliot Institute. It featured a guest post titled My Rape Pregnancy and My Furor Over Social Myths. A woman spoke of how, at 17, she was drugged, raped, and became pregnant as a result. Because of intense familial and societal pressure, she had an abortion, and later came to regret the decision.
Another off-island resident (also male) sent in a far less civilized letter – a very personal attack: “…but this latest article from Ms Vukic really is a piece of nonsensical twaddle. (Twaddle being the sticky substance that forms in a wombat’s armpit.)”
It was difficult to figure out what our Australian-born reader’s problem was, due partly to his lack of grammar skills, but also because he was incapable of expressing what his gripe was: his letter made no sense. And while it initially upset me, after several reads it actually came across as funny. He called my column “…a crass and tactless piece of writing and thought.…” But the only crass and tactless piece of writing that I could see was this man’s letter.
A colleague recently suggested I do a column on manners, and how sorely they’re lacking in our world. After this letter, I couldn’t agree more. But this has gone beyond a basic lack of courtesy and respect; the abortion topic is clearly explosive and incites extreme opinions.
I browsed through the Elliot Institute website brought up by my first letter-writer. It’s a sham. It’s “pro-life” – or, as I prefer to put it, anti-choice – to an extreme where they paint abortion as a completely unacceptable option under any circumstances. They go as far as to accuse Planned Parenthood of coercing women into getting abortions.
Expressing a viewpoint is one thing. But when people try to paint pregnancy through rape as something so wonderful that all women ought to be lining up for a chance to have this happen to us, is categorically unacceptable. It’s sad to think there are people out there who would buy into this rubbish. But what’s scary is to think that women who are facing a decision on whether or not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy will turn to websites such as these for guidance, not realizing that the source is biased and misleading.
Seeking some definite answers, I turned to my friend and colleague, Bakira Hasecic, a survivor of mass and systematic rape during the Bosnian war. She is president of the Sarajevo-based organization Women Victims of War, which provides service to women and men who were victims of wartime rape.
Bakira tells me there is not one known case of any woman wanting to give birth to a child that was a result of rape during the Bosnian war. Some women were held in captivity until the advanced stages of pregnancy; at that point, having an abortion was no longer a safe option. For others, it was impossible to obtain access to a safe medical abortion. Others found a way to abort via methods that risked their health. Amongst women who had no choice but to give birth under those circumstances, some gave their babies up for adoption; others left their infants in the care of their rapists, while others kept their babies.
Last summer in Bosnia, I met a woman who, after being released from captivity, was able to get an abortion through extraordinary means. I also had a chance to meet a young woman who was a product of wartime rape (and who has been made aware of this fact). I don’t think the average person can even begin to comprehend the suffering that women in these situations go through in their lives.
With that in mind, I have one thing to say to the above-mentioned letter-writers: Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. But when all you can offer is ignorance and misinformation, sometimes you’re better off keeping your mouth shut.