Guest Blogger: Karen Stiller, Associate Editor, Faith Today Magazine
Almost 25 years ago, my husband Brent and I started a Students for Life group at Dalhousie University in Halifax. We had no idea the trouble we were about to unleash.
The abortion debate had just hit my hometown full force, with Henry Morgentaler setting up shop downtown. I was in the third-year of a degree in international development studies. In our classes we had "solidarity breaks" instead of coffee-breaks, and posters of Karl Marx hung on the wall of a professor's office. We were pushed to question, challenged to dig beyond the surface, and educated on the ins and outs of dictatorships, coup d'état and freedom.
We were quick to discover, as pro-life students at Carleton University are learning all too well, that power to the people and all that jazz is a courtesy rarely extended to the pro-life community on university campuses.
Our rag-tag group of fledgling activists met once a week on the top floor of the student union building. We set up information tables in the lobby, covered with leaflets from Feminists for Life, the organization that we thought hit the mark most closely in the university arena. I don't think we ever came even close to having a real discussion of depth with anyone. It was like we were speaking another language.
Posters we hung up around campus, clean of images, contained only simple slogans like "Peace begins in the womb," and "Susan B. Anthony was pro-life." Even they were not allowed and were ripped down almost as quickly as we could slap them up.
Our attempt to purchase space in the student newspaper to advertise support for women suffering post-abortion trauma was scornfully refused. I met and debated with a disapproving student editorial board that wielded more power than any editor I have met since in 15 years of being a freelance writer out in the real world.
Being young and sneaky, and feeling like we were in a war, we called Morgentaler's place in Halifax and pleasantly inquired if they provided counselling for women who were feeling badly about their abortion. They said they guessed they would speak to such a woman if she requested it. So, we added them on to our advertisement offering help to women suffering from post-abortion despair. The student paper could no longer refuse us — but they had to bear the wrath of Morgantaler's clinic when they discovered the advertisement.
That was fun.
The rest of it wasn't fun. It was mostly awful. In an attempt to outlaw our group, the student union decided to pass legislation that would make the Dalhousie student body officially pro-choice. They tied it into a vote for a new president. I gave a short speech at every rally —a baptism by a really big fire in public speaking — arguing that the student union was taking away our right to choose our own opinion about an issue on which there was not consensus. Miraculously, we won.
The price we paid though — a small one, but painful at the time — was being vilified on campus. The other cost was the suffocating feeling of powerlessness and disbelief that a university campus in a democratic country — the one place on earth where we should be able to speak our minds freely and explore different opinions widely and deeply — could be so blindly biased, closed and repressive.
A quarter of a century later, I can laugh a little bit at the absurdity of it all. But for today's students at Carleton, it's no laughing matter.