Last Tuesday, SSMU approved Choose Life for interim club status. The club’s stated aims include providing students with education on “the value of human life from conception,” as well as with “post-abortion help.”
The Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE) Collective supports all students’ rights to hold opinions that differ from ours, and believes that SSMU and SSMU clubs should allow for the exchange of controversial ideas and divergent opinions. However, we believe that a line must be drawn when disseminating these opinions endangers other students’ emotional and physical well-being.
Pro-life “education” is incompatible with an inclusive and safe Students’ Society. Choose Life is affiliated with the National Campus Life Network, a group that “supports Canada’s pro-life students” on campuses across Canada. Other campus groups affiliated with the Network have used blatantly hateful materials in their public education campaigns. One group at UBC used a display entitled the “Genocide Awareness Project,” displaying images of aborted fetuses and comparing abortion to the Holocaust and other genocides.
While Choose Life has stated that they are not planning to use graphic images, we believe that any “pro-life” material in student space is harmful. The group claims to educate students about pregnancy options, but the purpose of “pro-life” education is to limit choices, not to provide them.
By condemning abortion as an option, pro-life propaganda is targeting, alienating, and shaming a minority group within the student body – those who have had or are considering abortion. The people most affected by this tend to be already marginalized members of our student community, including women, survivors of sexual assault, sex workers, and people with limited access to health care.
Choose Life’s goal of providing “after-abortion help” is also troubling. McGill Counseling Services, as well as a number of student groups, already work to provide non-judgmental support for people who are pregnant or who have had abortions. The only thing that could possibly be different about Choose Life’s support would be its judgmental slant. This “help” would only serve to encourage feelings of guilt among those who have had abortions and exploit their experiences for the pro-life cause.
SSMU Council was not endorsing “pro-life” ideology by giving Choose Life status, but in doing this they are lending the group and its activities legitimacy – and potentially future funding and physical space. Council has expressed its desire to “give this group a chance,” promising to take action against any activities that violate SSMU’s constitution or equity policy. However, we feel that the group’s mandate already violates the constitution, and that even one public event has the potential to cause harm to members of the Students’ Society.
SSMU has a responsibility to protect its members, and student space like the Shatner building should be safe and inclusive for all students. This responsibility means not allowing harmful propaganda to be spread using students’ space or money. How much harm must be done before our Students’ Society will act to defend students’ safety?
You can reach the Union for Gender Empowerment Collective at firstname.lastname@example.org.