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Gabrielle Cook

Professor Vaughn


21 April 2017

Abortion Rhetorical Strategy: The Effects of Genre

Imagine you are a 16-year-old girl. You come home from school one day to see your

mother crying at the kitchen table with a letter in her hand; you start crying too because you

know what that letter says. It was from members of your church telling her that you had gotten

an abortion three days ago. Your mother shrieks, Why did you do it? Why did you kill your

baby? This emotional story actually happened to Jenny Egan in 1997 and is told within Gillian

Aldrichs I Had an Abortion documentary. As a documentary, this film uses emotional stories

such as this to make an argument about abortion. These stories would be considered a

characteristic of the genre of documentaries, which often includes detailed personal accounts

aided with visuals. For instance, you may have seen something like a documentary on Animal

Planet about koala habitats being destroyed that follows one family and narrates their tragedy.

You feel sad for the koalas and understand that the filmmakers are calling for an end to koala

habitat destruction. Creators within the same genre use similar tactics to appeal to their audiences

and make their arguments. These tactics are called rhetorical strategies and the strategies that are

used by creators are dependent on the rhetorical situation. In analyzing the effect of genre on

rhetorical strategies, it is necessary to compare multiple genres. Many different genres tackle the

topic of abortion, more than documentaries genres can range from scholarly articles to blog
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posts. Focusing on several key strategies as comparison points, we can examine how each genre

implements them.

The first genre is documentaries, which are a type of film, as mentioned previously, that

focus on emotional retellings of stories usually accompanied with visuals to help the audience

put themselves in the story. Audiences are more general for this genre because of the appeal that

the visual aspect has as well as the common language that is usually used when people are telling

their own stories. The I Had an Abortion documentary uses the personal stories of women who

have had abortions from a variety of backgrounds and times. These stories are then used to

construct an argument about a larger issue. The director and co-producers are renowned feminists

of the late 20th century so it is clear that their intention of telling these stories was not to

demonize abortion but to humanize it and give a voice to the people that have so often been

silenced about this experience. In contrast, the second genre we are looking at is blogs; the

particular blog post that we are examining comes from a website called the Pro-Life Action

League and is titled This is Why Abortion Clinic Inspections Are Necessary. This blog post

like many others uses mostly an informal essay format to convey their message along with a few

quotes and visuals. The post discusses an abortion clinic in Pennsylvania that was not following

regulations and the main purpose was to offer support for strictly regulating abortion clinics,

which is a message that appealed to the authors audience. The audiences of blogs and blog posts

are usually much more specific than documentaries because they have to be. Blogs are found on

the internet, which is a vast network of information, so if an author wants people to read their

material they have to find their niche market and address those people within their own discourse

community. The This is Why Abortion Clinic Inspections Are Necessary blog post appeals to

people that identify as pro-life but who are also looking for common sources with simplified
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ideas and terms. This is starkly contrasted by our third source titled Does Abortion Lower the

Crime Rate? which is a scholarly article authored by Dr. Robert Barro, an economics professor

at Harvard. His audience would be people in academia who are looking for thorough analysis

and evidence-based research on the topic; the purpose of his article was less about the morality

of abortion and more so about examining the investigation of the question Does abortion lower

the crime rate? Dr. Barro does not contribute his own research on the topic; however, he does

discuss the research of his peers. This practice is common in scholarly articles in which instead

of doing their own research authors will examine the research done by others and offer their

input. Literature reviews, a sub-genre of scholarly articles, are essentially just this. Their purpose

is to review what has been published thus far about a certain topic and use that to provide

grounds for future research. Dr. Barros article does not go as in depth as a full literature review,

but the purpose is still the same: to go over what has been done and to call for further research.

A great indication for the intended audience of a piece is the diction and the tone of the

author. For instance, in the scholarly article Dr. Barro is intending for his colleagues in academia

to read his work, which he demonstrates through his use of verbiage and mostly formal tone. He

uses phrases throughout the article such as new causal factor, determinants of crime, and

policy implications which carry the more formal tone that is expected in these types of articles.

Through similar strategies, the author of the This is Why Abortion Clinic Inspections Are

Necessary blog post indicates their audience. The post carries a more informal and aggressive

tone that seemed almost disrespectful towards the opposing viewpoint, which is a clear

indication that it is not a scholarly piece, as respectful disagreement, is a part of the research

process. The author creates this tone with phrases such as it really throws a spanner in the works

of the pro-choice movements claims, you cant make this stuff up, so much for protecting
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womens right to privacy, and no wonder abortion clinics dont like being inspected. The

word choice and tone that the author uses excludes scholars and people the identify as pro-choice

and includes people that not only identify as pro-life but are equally as aggressive about this

issue and hold the same attitude and beliefs as the author. Blog posts are unique in the fact that

they can say essentially, whatever they want about an issue; however, they want without

repercussions as long as there is an audience for it because they are publishing on the worldwide

web. The I Had an Abortion documentary has a more broad audience, which is indicated more so

by the way that the filmmakers address the subject material than it is with the tone and diction,

meaning that the personal story format makes it more appealing than the tone does. However, the

tone is still an important rhetorical strategy implemented by the filmmakers. Throughout the

piece, the tone shifts depending on what is happening on screen. The tone is more informal and

emotional during the personal stories but then becomes more serious between scenes when the

transitions abruptly appear and have no sound with a block of white text on a black screen that

details facts about abortion in the United States. This shift of tone enables the documentary to

have the broader audience because if the creators had maintained the serious tone throughout the

entire piece they would have had a more narrow audience that would be able to handle that.

Additionally, if they had maintained the emotional and informal tone throughout the entire film

their argument may not have come across as strongly. Documentaries are able to translate tone

visually and literally by using sound, which is one way of effectively targeting their intended

audience. The two written sources mentioned previously use tone and word choice as a means of

indicating their audiences as well.

Appealing to ethos and pathos are common strategies used in argumentative pieces.

Ethos is the appeal to authority or credibility. The I Had an Abortion documentary uses this
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appeal in two ways. Having people retell their personal experience gives them credibility

because these are first-person sources who are providing us with details about the events that

they went through; these women have actually had abortions, therefore making them the

authority on having an abortion. The documentary also appeals to reputation because not only

was it created by renowned feminist leaders of the time but it features them as well. The film was

directed and co-produced by Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner and features Gloria

Steinem who talks about her abortion; all of these women are well known activists within the

feminist community. The story telling aspect of documentaries like this allow the audience to

trust the film and to know that what theyre hearing is someones true experience. Dr. Barros

scholarly article uses ethos as a rhetorical strategy as well. Instead of personal experience he

appeals to reputation and credibility through providing facts, figures, and sources for the research

that he has done on his topic. Being a professor at the prestigious Harvard University, Dr. Barro

uses that as a source of credibility as well by including his position in the left-hand column of his

article stating he is a professor at Harvard University and a senior fellow of the Hoover

Institution [at Stanford University]. Since his audience is in academia, they will be able to

appreciate his accolades and trust his judgement based upon his position and the research he has

provided. He makes himself the authority on the issue by providing reputable sources and

making himself seem more credible. While these two sources use ethos successfully to make

themselves more credible, the This is Why Abortion Clinic Inspections Are Necessary blog

post uses ethos unsuccessfully, which makes the author, seem less credible at least from an

academic perspective. One out of the three sources in the article links back to another blog post

from the Pro-Life Action League, which is essentially just another opinion piece, instead of using

a different more reputable source. Throughout the article, the author makes unsupported claims,
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such as saying that sterile packaging needs to be temperature and humidity controlled without

providing a source. According to the CDC, the storage guidelines for sterile packaging are that it

has to maintain its integrity and not be wet. By using these unsupported claims along with few

reputable sources, the author of this blog post takes away from their credibility and does not

convince a reader who is looking for these sources that they are an authority on the issue.

However, blog posts are dangerous in this aspect because if readers were not looking at the

authors sources, or lack thereof, they would believe what the author is saying even though it is

unsupported. In this case, the audience of this article may not be looking for someone that uses

facts to be credible but instead appeals to their same emotions which provides trust between the

author and reader in that regard. This would be considered more of a pathos appeal, or an appeal

to emotions, attitudes, and beliefs.

As mentioned previously, the intended audience of the blog post is people that identify as

pro-life with the purpose of supporting the idea that abortion clinics should be regulated more

heavily. The author uses pathos by appealing to the readers moral opposition to abortion as well

as the feelings of fear and uncertainty. The post states, If these are the conditions that are found

in an abortion clinic that is regularly inspected, imagine what the conditions are in abortion

clinicslike several in Illinoisthat are never inspected? This leads the reader to imagine

the worst possibilities instead of providing facts about what other clinics are actually like. The

blog post goes on to say, It should come as no surprise that those who would cut babies into

pieces may find it difficult to show much concern for the lives of their mothers. Phrasing like

cut babies into pieces appeals directly to the beliefs that the audience holds about abortion.

Blog posts as a genre have the ability to make these emotional claims that are unsupported

because people can write almost anything and put it out on the internet. This contrasted with the
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scholarly article by Dr. Barro that hardly uses pathos. The topic of aborted children inherently

brings in some emotions, but Dr. Barro focuses more on the data and uses more of a logos, or

logical, approach with evidence, facts, and sources. This is typical of the genre of scholarly

articles because their main purpose is to provide evidence supporting an argument. The I Had an

Abortion documentary also uses evidence to support its argument but its main evidence happens

to be emotionally charged stories, which is a strong use of pathos. The documentary is comprised

of individual women, such as Florence Rice who had an abortion in 1938 and Jenny Egan who

had an abortion in 1997, telling their stories. During the story images of the women when they

were younger flash by as well as other images to set the scene so you as the viewer can put

yourself into their story and feel what they felt. The use of sound and music in the documentary

is effective as an appeal to emotion as well because it tells you what you are supposed to be

feeling throughout the film. Documentaries are visual and audible, which enables them to appeal

to the senses in a way that text, cannot.

Analyzing works on similar topics from different genres allows us to understand the

effect of rhetorical situations and genre on the use of rhetorical strategies. In other words, the

way that an author uses certain rhetorical devices depends on their genre and their audience. The

audience of a piece and the genre of a piece are related because the genre is part of what draws in

a particular audience. Certain appeals work for different groups of people. For instance, people in

academia who are reading a scholarly article will respond better to a complex vocabulary and

evidence-based research whereas the general public watching a documentary may respond better

to simpler language and emotional appeals. The scholarly article, the documentary, and the blog

post all represent a different genre and each implements their own strategies in order to

accomplish their purpose.

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Through looking at the effect of genre and rhetorical situation on rhetorical strategies and

purpose we are able to gain a fuller understanding of the ways in which we are being impacted

personally by different genres. Every day we read constantly, from newspapers with our morning

coffee to the advertisements while walking down the street. It is important to recognize the

strategies that are influencing us as individuals and as a society. Being conscious of rhetorical

strategies enables us to be more aware of the factors that impact us as well as make smarter

decisions. For instance, if Starbucks did an online marketing campaign with Instagram posts,

they would be targeting a their audience and using a specific genre therefore specific strategies to

customers to buy their products. Becoming active readers is relevant to more than just reading a

book in class, texts of different genres are everywhere and have an influence in our daily lives,

we just have to notice them.

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Works Cited

Aldrich, Gillian, director. I Had an Abortion. Video. Produced by Jennifer Baumgardner and

Gillian Aldrich, 2005. http://www.jenniferbaumgardner.net/i-had-an-abortion.

Barro, Robert J. Does Abortion Lower the Crime Rate? Economic Viewpoint, 17 September

1999. http://scholar.harvard.edu/barro/files/99_0927_crimerate_bw.pdf.

CDC. Infection Control. Oral Health, N.d.


Jansen, John. This is Why Abortion Clinic Inspections Are Necessary. Pro-Life Action

League, 13 January 2017. https://prolifeaction.org/2017/harrisburg.