Since its legalization, the subject of abortion has been a deeply divisive and emotionally charged topic. Regardless of one’s thoughts on abortion, laws that ban abortion remain unconstitutional in Canada and protests against abortion support the removal of women’s rights.
More student government sanctioned pro-life events, despite the backlash
Pro-life views have been gaining more visibility on campus. In the past year, Western University has seen an increase in student council sanctioned pro-life demonstrations on campus.
Lifeline, Western’s officially recognized pro-life club, has held four demonstrations that involved club executives standing by a banner of a fetus, handing out pamphlets that framed abortion as a human rights violation. These events aim to “make abortion unthinkable on [Western’s] campus.”
From what I’ve seen, Lifeline has hosted arguably tame demonstrations with no aggressive behaviour. But regardless of how pro-life values are presented, the debate around abortion itself can fuel fury and vitriol — and, indeed, it has among many students on campus.
The balance between representing diverse views and ensuring that students feel welcome
Although I don’t agree with their views, I believe pro-life groups have a right to voice their opinions on campus. But that’s doesn’t mean our student government should support their stance by sanctioning these events.
The student council is committed to representing and advocating for students as well as ensuring that all students, including women, feel welcomed, accepted, represented and supported at the institution.
Yet, student council still sanctions Lifeline — a club that advocates for the violation of a woman’s Charter rights. This decision can denigrate certain individuals, especially because many women on campus are at an age where they’re somewhat likely to have abortions.
Sanctioning Western’s Lifeline is a decision that likely comes from a desire to represent the diverse views held by the student body.
But look at contentious issues other minorities face.
For example, it’s unlikely that student government would ever sanction a club that advocated for the reversal of gay marriage, due to their fierce commitment to equality.
So why would student council authorize events that advocate for the diminishing of female autonomy? Why not simply allow pro-life groups organize respectful protests on campus without the support of student council?
The complexities of the abortion debate
Although marriage equality may not evoke the same visceral images that abortion does, condemning both limits the rights and freedoms of marginalized groups.
If a hypothetical club were to advocate for the reversal of gay marriage, the outrage would pour in from several different services on campus, denouncing the club as homophobic.
Yet, much more empathy exists for pro-life groups.
Understandably so, because many pro-life supporters equate abortion with murder and compare the countless number of aborted fetuses to a genocide that’s largely being ignored, despite abortion and murder being considerably different.
So, taking a pro-life stance may not come from a place of deep seated misogyny, but attempting to make abortion “unthinkable” does prioritize a non-juridical person’s non-existent rights over a living, breathing and woman’s rights. This stance diminishes the value of women especially because fetuses and women are a single entity.
Carrying a baby to term violates a women’s rights to personal dignity, bodily integrity and autonomy (s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Nothing in the charter requires you to loan out your bodily resources to help someone else.
Imagine if you were forced to donate blood to the Red Cross to sustain someone else’s life?
Marginalizing Women’s Issues
Marriage equality has been solidified since 2003. Since then, LGBTQ acceptance has grown at university campuses — that’s why you wouldn’t see an official club protesting gay marriage.
However, abortion has been legal since 1988, and official pro-life clubs like Lifeline still exist on university campuses across Canada.
Yes, the natures of these topics are vastly different, but our extended empathy towards Lifeline existing as an official club shows we don’t view women’s issues the same way we do with other issues.
Pregnancy is a uniquely female issue. Besides violating someone’s bodily integrity, encouraging someone to carry a baby to term, regardless of circumstances, ignores situations like sexual assault, a topic that’s frequently discussed on campus.
Freedom of Speech
Western’s student council has emphasized their devotion to empowering women in recent years, but sanctioning a club like Lifeline makes that messaging seem disingenuous.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone has the right to express their opinion or to protest on campus. But student council should not contradict their commitment to inclusivity by sanctioning advocacy that condemns reproductive freedom.
If student council really means what they say about inclusivity and student support, then it’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is, and stop pro-life protesters on campuses once and for all.