Pro-life group Choose Life could push for full club status by month’s end, provided that the club’s interim activities are not considered unacceptable by SSMU’s Equity Committee.
At the October 28 Council meeting, Choose Life was granted three-month interim club status in a 21-to-two vote, amidst concerns voiced by students from the Quebec Public Interest Research Group-McGill and the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE) about incendiary anti-abortion tactics used by similar groups.
Preceding the vote, Choose Life president Natalie Fohl assured students and councillors that the club would not condone “using graphic pictures or circulating literature that could be construed as hateful.”
SSMU VP External Devin Alfaro assured Council in October that definite consequences would follow if Choose Life were to circulate any such material, and Choose Life was granted the right to free speech and regular assembly.
On November 24, at one of the club’s first events, Choose Life tabled at the McGill crossroads with displays of images of fetuses – an event Fohl hoped would bring the issue into public focus. The club established a voting booth and comment station asking when a fetus should legally be considered a person,
“We wanted the voting to spark discussion, encourage people to reflect on the question, and voice their opinion,” said Fohl.
Displayed on the table were to-scale images of a fetus developing from conception. Each month of pregnancy contained different facts about foetal development, and each fetus “said” something in the photo caption, with the seventh-month fetus saying, “I can look around!”
On the table, in a binder, lay similar illustrations photocopied from a biology textbook, “Human Development.”
Diagonally across from Choose Life, a group of students organized an informal counter-protest on the corner of the crossroads, handing out pieces of cloth reading “my body, my rules.” Other protesting students’ signs matched those displayed by the UGE at the October Council meeting: “Legalize abortion” and “fight gender oppression.”
U3 Sociology student Sarah Golightly, a member of the UGE who took part in counter-protest, was concerned with the philosophy Choose Life was promoting.
“[They’re] portraying people who have had abortions as immoral,” said Golightly. “I’m most concerned about the effect this could have on students [with] what I consider to be propaganda.”
The UGE is due to publish a reproductive rights zine in February.
However, U2 Philosophy Honours Trevor Bant did not react as strongly to the group’s event.
“I see no problem as long as they say things in a respectful and tolerant manner,” Bant said. “But I don’t know how many McGill students would be sympathetic to their cause.”
Fohl maintained that no pamphlets were actively handed out, and those available for circulation contained no inflammatory or graphic material, despite certain students’ charges that the club distributed hateful material.
Complaints from individual students can be made through the SSMU Equity Committee; the Judicial Board hears grievances between clubs.
According to SSMU VP Clubs & Services Samantha Cook, some student complaints have been taken up with the Equity Committee, but SSMU will not necessarily reopen the Choose Life debate at Council, as equity officers may decide the issue independently or defer it to a separate committee. To date, the Judicial Board has received no complaints.
Choose Life’s next planned event is a talk on Monday by Mary Meehan, a veteran pro-life speaker urging liberals and feminists to defend the unborn.