A pro-life group applying for club status from SSMU is anticipating a hostile reaction from students given popular opinions on abortion.
The group, Choose Life, hopes to educate students in the McGill community about the pro-life cause by promoting respect for human life from conception.
“There’s not too much encouragement in university and our community for women to choose life,” said Natalie Fohl, U2 Biology and Political Science, who founded the group.
Fohl acknowledged that the McGill community may oppose Choose Life in its efforts to gain club status. She pointed to the recent popular resistance to Parliament Bill C-484, which would make it a crime to cause death or injury to an unborn child while attempting to harm its mother.
Choose Life plans to provide information and resources on other pregnancy options to women who might see abortion as their only choice.
“It’s really concerning, because nearly 100,000 abortions happen in Canada every year – no one knows about it and no one cares, so it’s really intolerable.”
SSMU council will have the final say on Choose Life’s status, although it is still unknown when the vote will take place.
SSMU VP Clubs and Services Samantha Cook pointed out that Choose Life’s quest is highly controversial and acknowldged that SSMU may not want to be associated with a group perceived as discriminatory.
“I would imagine that there would be some sort of backlash if this does go through,” Cook said. “I think primarily you might see one from the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students (SACOMSS) and the Union for Gender Empowerment…[who] have a more vested interest in women’s rights and reproductive rights.”
Fohl stressed that the group’s goals do not include campaigning to change the legal status of abortion.
“We feel that changing hearts and minds needs to happen [before that] and is more important,” Fohl said.
But she also recognized that freedom of speech is an important factor to consider when debating the legitimacy of the group. Despite McGill’s predominantly liberal student body, especially among those involved with SSMU, Cook explained that the students’ society must represent opinions on campus. As a result, taking an ideological stance against the pro-life group could set a dangerous precedent.
“Just because it doesn’t have significant support from the majority of the population doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist to support the interest of a minority of students,” Cook said.
Two other pro-life student groups in Canada have had to fight for recognition as legitimate clubs on their campus, said Theresa Gilbert, Executive Director of the National Campus Life Network (NCLN).
“It’s an issue of freedom of speech,” Gilbert said. “Obviously we feel that the pro-life position is a legitimate view, based in science and based in reason.”
Gilbert explained that universites can make students with pro-life convictions reluctant to express them openly because students’ societies often side against them.
“We feel that students who express these views are not able to voice them in public,” she said.
Student associations at Carleton University and Capilano University in British Columbia have attempted to ban pro-life groups from becoming clubs in recent years. Both ultimately overturned their decisions, though the Capilano Students Union only did so only after the pro-life group complained to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on the basis of religious discrimination.
This summer, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) – a nationwide association of student unions that SSMU was kicked out of last fall – passed a motion to support student associations that deny funding to pro-life groups and clubs.
VP External Gilary Massa of the York Federation of Students (YFS) – the student association that brought forward the CFS motion – said the motion was meant to support student unions that did not want to fund anti-choice groups.
“This is not a ban, just a decision as to how our funding would be allocated,” said Massa. “We have a stance against allocating resources to work that is homophobic, racist, sexist, or discriminatory in any nature,” which includes pro-life groups in the view of the YFS.
According to Cook, SSMU is under no longer obligation to honour the CFS motion since it is no longer a member.