(An edited version of this article appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of LifeCanada News)
There is a disturbing parallel between what is happening to university pro-life clubs, and politicians’ refusal to debate abortion in Parliament. In both cases, those in authority are censoring freedom of speech and freedom of expression as it relates to abortion.
In an interview with CBC's Peter Mansbridge in January, Stephen Harper was asked if his government received a majority in the next election, whether he would "reopen the abortion issue". Mr. Harper responded:
"No, no, no. Look Peter, I've spent my political career trying to stay out of that issue. It's one on which people, including in my own party have passionate views, they're all over the map, and you know what I say to people...as you know, many people I know are pro-life...what I say to people, is if you want to diminish the number of abortions you've got to change hearts and not laws, and I'm not interested in having a debate over abortion law."
But Mr. Harper doesn't seem to get it. Changing laws, and the necessary debate that the legislative process involves, is actually a very powerful mechanism for changing hearts, as one of Canada's most vocal abortion proponents herself admitted.
A few years ago MP Ken Epp introduced a bill C-484 in Parliament, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act (1). The bill created heated discussion in the media, both from the pro-life side and from the pro-choice side. Many so-called "pro-choicers" argued vigorously against the bill, most notably, Joyce Arthur, head of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Arthur let slip her real motivation behind her opposition to Bill C-484 when she said:
"If the fetuses are recognized in this bill, it could bleed into people's consciousness and make people change their minds about abortion".(2)
Arthur was worried about what effect legal recognition of the value of the fetus would have on the public's perception of abortion, even though Bill C-484 did not in any way criminalize consensual abortion. The bill only offered protection to the pre-born child in one very narrow circumstance (i.e., when the pregnant mother is the victim of a crime and her baby is intentionally harmed as well).
But Arthur was afraid such a law would do exactly what Mr. Harper said, and hearts would be changed against abortion.
Even if a law on the subject matter of abortion does not in fact pass, the discussion and debate it generates is a crucial means to changing hearts. It is difficult to fathom the Prime Minister not recognizing this connection.
Now let’s look at what is happening to pro-life groups on university campuses, and the latest pro-life group casualty, Carleton’s Lifeline. This is just one more campus pro-life group, in a long line of many, which is being silenced across our country.
Last fall these pro-life students were charged with two counts of trespassing each: one count of engaging in prohibited activity and one count of failing to leave the premises when asked.
Why were they charged? Because they planned to display the Genocide Awareness Project (the GAP exhibit compares abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide) at Tory Quad, a large outdoor area on campus with high traffic.
Lifeline is now suing the University (3). Lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos says about the lawsuit:
"If universities begin to censor students on the basis of their political belief, universities will become centres of indoctrination as opposed to centres of learning. Freedom of expression on a university campus is essential to its integrity.”
So why did CUSA want to prevent Lifeline from showing the GAP project?
It's the truth behind those pictures. Graphically showing abortion destroys the euphemistic label "pro-choice". A picture really is worth a thousand words: "Pro-choice"=bloody killed fetus. There really is no nice way to say this. If University students see these pictures, they see the truth--the result of abortion. They do not see "pro-choice".
If CUSA allows Lifeline to show these graphic depictions of abortion, young impressionable university students might turn against abortion. They might have a change of heart.
CUSA and other anti-prolife student unions are learning from our political leaders that censorship and quashing of debate on abortion is acceptable. This disturbing ripple effect encourages students to discriminate against pro-life students because some people have decided they don't like the message.
We reap (in our universities) what we sow (in our Parliament).
Canadians must become engaged in the political process at all levels. Because censoring debate, whether in Parliament or on university campuses--is not freedom of speech. And it is not democracy.
(1) This bill would have created a separate offense for intentionally harming or killing an unborn child during the commission of an offense against the child's mother. The bill passed at Second Reading in the spring of 2008, but it died before it could get to the Third Reading vote because an election was called in the fall of 2008.
2) "Fetal rights stir debate on abortion," by Charles Lewis, National Post, March 1, 2008
3) Statement of claim http://carletonlifeline.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/statement-of-claim.pdf