Students entering the Shatner Building Thursday afternoon were greeted by demonstrators with signs reading “I regret my abortion” and “I regret lost fatherhood” alongside about a dozen pro- choice advocates protesting their presence on campus.
SSMU club Choose Life invited three representatives of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (SNMAC), a non-denominational Christian organization that shares testimonials and aims to discourage women from obtaining abortions, to speak in the Lev Buhkman room.
Nancy Garez, a member of SNMAC who had an abortion in 1982, was grateful for the presence of pro-choice advocates. “I want to talk to them. I was like them before I had my abortion – we were all for choice in my family.”
President and Choose Life founder Natalie Fohl (U3 Political Science and Biology) also saw the interac- tion as a positive experience.
“[It was] a great opportunity for dialogue,” said Fohl.
However, one protester who asked to remain anonymous was upset by SNMAC’s use of signs on campus, as well as Choose Life’s display of fetus photographs at the crossroads last November.
“I am deeply disturbed…that someone might walk to class and encounter signs that target a dif- ficult decision that they had to make…. Whether they are made to feel ashamed for a minute or for the rest of the year, it’s not okay,” they said.
Arts Senator Sarah Woolf (U2 Political Science and Women’s Studies) student participated in the pro-choice protest and agreed that Choose Life’s activities, including hosting SNMAC, are offensive.
“As a woman on campus, their activities are offensive to me. Within the context of their current activi- ties, I don’t want them on campus,” Woolf said.
Woolf added that she would be interested in hearing proposals from students on why Choose Life’s club status should be revoked.
Critics questioned other tactics of SNMAC, including the implications of their emphasis on testimony.
“I think that this kind of pro- life activism is actually a lot more dangerous than traditional pro-life activism because it dresses itself up as being…non-judgmental. But it is,” said Erika Pierre (U4 Cultural Studies), who attended the event.
“By presenting themselves as saying…‘We regret our abortions, therefore, you will also regret your abortion. We know better than you.’ They’re being a lot more sly and a lot more manipulative than traditional pro-life [activists],” Pierre added.
Woolf echoed Pierre’s views.
“The manipulation of personal – obviously tragic – stories to convince people that abortion is wrong on all fronts…[is] unacceptable,” she said.
SNMAC eventually moved to the Lev Buckman room, where Garez, fellow member David MacDonald, and the campaign’s national coordinator, Angelina Steenstra, shared their experiences with abortion.
The three spoke once at 1 p.m. and again at 2:30, each time to a group of around twenty students, while protesters sang songs and played guitar outside the room.
Woolf described the demonstration as “A joyous protest,” adding, “You can have protests about things you’re angry about but still do it in an upbeat manner.”
Inside, Garez described her life after her abortion.
“My life became a mixture of broken relationships, anxiety crises, and heavy smoking,” Garez said. “[Abortion affected] my life and the life of my children. They have a sibling missing.”
MacDonald explained that his views on abortion were derived wholly from his personal experiences with two abortions.
“I came to my views on abortion long before I picked up a Bible,” he said, adding, “My position on abortion came really from a whole bunch of messed up stuff.”
Steenstra spoke of choosing to receive an abortion after she was a victim of date rape at 15.
“Abortion did not solve my problem. It ended it,” Steenstra said.
Steenstra recalled the pressure placed on her to obtain an abortion by a coworker.
“I didn’t know that abortion was an industry…my fears were used against me,” she said.
Steenstra dealt with psychological problems for 14 years following her abortion. She explained how accepting that “[her] abortion had taken a human life” was vital to her healing process.
“It’s the truth that set me free. Not euphemisms, not band-aids, not cover-ups,” Steenstra said.
MacDonald expressed simi- lar views, asking, “What is it that’s killed? Is it a blob of tissue? Well, there’s not a biologist on the planet that would say that.”
U3 Arts and Science student Elaina Kaufman took issue with Steenstra and MacDonald’s lan- guage, asking if women who sought help from SNMAC would be encour- aged to view their abortions as killing.
Steenstra responded by saying, “They would be encouraged to tell their story.”
While speaking with The Daily after her testimonial, Steenstra elaborated: “When I talk about abortion in the context of killing, I’m talking about my own revelation.”
Fohl supported Steenstra’s and MacDonald’s language, saying “It would be bizarre…if not dishonest, for them to use any other lan- guage.”
Steenstra asserted that SNMAC’s only goal is to share testimonies and offer support to women and men. “Our goal is to reach out to people, one person at a time. We’re not political,” she said.
But SNMAC is is not without some political interests. In a January 2007 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Emily Bazelon reported that the campaign’s co-founders, Georgette Forney and Janet Morana, participated in a rally near the US Supreme Court with banners reading “I Regret My Abortion.”
SNMAC is funded partially by Priests for Life, whose web site encourages readers to “Help with voter registration and distribution of voter guides. Become involved, as citizens, in political campaigns. Vote in such a way that will advance the protection of life.”
Fohl said that Choose Life plans to host a pro-life speaker in two weeks and is currently looking for a pro-choice speaker to participate in the event.
CORRECTION: In a recorded interview with The Daily, Nancy Garez stated that she received an abortion in 1992. After this article went to print, Garez called The Daily and said she had misspoken – she received her abortion in 1982. As well, due to an editing error, the original version of this article incorrectly stated that Sarah Woolf is a U3 student. She is, in fact, a U2 student.