Commentary | Editorial: Campus is no place to limit choice

Across the country, university student associations have been revoking club status from pro-life student groups. And while Choose Life – which SSMU Council granted full-club status by a secret ballot last Thursday – has been easy to work with so far, their events have taken a one-way approach to dialogue that limits choice and options for women. The Daily strongly supports the promotion of dialogue on campus, and we’re not against Choose Life because their ideology doesn’t agree with ours; we’re against their methods.

Having a pro-life group on its own wouldn’t be a bad thing, but after waiting six months, we’ve seen that Choose Life is primarily an anti-abortion group focused on vilifying women who have had or are considering an abortion, rather than providing support to pregnant students choosing to carry to term. This message has come through in Choose Life’s two most notable events – a fetus display at the Y intersection and a talk by Mary Meehan. During her speech, Meehan said, “Some choices really should not even be considered, because they do involve harming or taking the lives of other people.” The Daily finds this attitude offensive, and we disagree with the SSMU Equity Officers’ decision to deem the fetus display appropriate.

In considering whether having this club makes students feel unsafe, or whether it targets a vulnerable group on campus, SSMU has argued no – it’s not so simple – but we disagree. Targeting pregnant university students with shock tactics is different than barraging omnivores with animal cruelty pamphlets. Though no two women facing the choice of abortion are the same, the choice is a difficult one – the outcome they choose is irreversible, intimately tied up with their own body, and comes with considerable social pressure surrounding it. A campus group does not have the right to make an individual feel ashamed for her choice, when it does not take into account the diverse factors that can lead to unwanted pregnancy – or the external pressures and practical realities that might guide her choice.

Besides that, we already have referral services on campus, for instance with the Union for Gender Empowerment and the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS). Despite being a resource primarily for survivors of sexual assault and their allies, SACOMSS already offers referrals to a variety of services – including ones for adoption, post-abortion counseling, and student-parent support – for everyone, and their volunteers undergo extensive training. While we worry that Choose Life might only guide students who approach them to centres that share their ideology, SACOMSS’s services are offered in a nondirectional way, meaning they believe each person knows their situation best.

The Daily also supports any group that seeks to provide support for students who choose to go through with their pregnancies, and for reducing the stigma directed toward student-parents. We are not, however, in support of club status for a group that has clearly demonstrated that one of its intentions is to limit choice. By targeting students who have had or are considering an abortion, Choose Life does a disservice to undergraduate students at McGill – and being polite, filling out paperwork on time, and removing the intention to provide “post-abortion help” from their mandate are not sufficient reasons for Council’s decision.

Only dialogue can allow pregnant women to inform themselves in making what they feel to be the best decision. Limiting choice has no place in that process.