By Lisa Urbach
Students trying to start an anti-abortion group on campus were rejected by RyeSAC after concerns were raised about some of the literature they had given out.
The Ryerson University Choose Life Association was rejected in its attempt to win official student status, in a secret ballot vote of 11 to 6 at the RyeSAC board meeting on Feb. 20.
Shortly before the vote, RyeSAC President Darren Cooney told the board he had been prepared to vote in favour of the group until he read some of their literature, which suggested a link between abortion and wife beating.
“When it comes down to a basic issue of free speech, on a basic level, all of us support it,” Cooney explained later. He said that the anti-abortion group had lost his support because some of their literature crossed the line into advocating hate.
“Freedom of speech is not absolute,” he said. “Why do people think you can say anything you want in a debate on a university campus?”
Ryerson is the first university in Canada to reject an anti-abortion student group, said Elaine Barber, director of the National Campus Life Network.
“I was surprised it got turned down,” said Barber, who’s group represents anti-abortion student groups across the country. “Most major campuses have pro-life groups.”
Critics attacked the Choose Life association as being anti-woman after it distributed pamphlets on campus that referred to abortion as “murder by the mother herself.”
At the board meeting, association Vice-President Sophia Hyginus defended her group from those accusations.
“I am pro-woman. I am pro-women’s’ rights. I want to have a group that allows women to make informed decisions. We are not anti-women. We’re strictly educational. We’re not trying to take away anyone’s rights,” Hyginus told RyeSAC’s board of directors.
Hyginus said the group’s role was not simply limited to opposing abortion, but also included providing direction and education on all pro-life issues including reproductive technology, stem cell research, cloning, euthanasia, capital punishment and palliative care.
But critics at the board meeting focused on the abortion issue, suggesting that the Choose Life Association had links to Aid to Women, and organization accused of harassing women who try to enter abortion clinics.
Hynigus said she was unaware that Aid to Women was so controversial.
“Our understanding was that they helped women facing crisis situations,” she said.
Association President Mike Nieznalski said his group would not be involved with any outside groups.
“We’re a student group. We’re a separate entity. We’re not affiliated with anyone,” he said.
The Choose Life Association was started in January by a few students who wanted pro-life views represented, and now has 39 members. By becoming an official group, it would have been able to put up posters on campus, book campus space and would have received funding from RyeSAC.
Nieznalski says the board of directors meeting was unfair. He is upset that a woman representing the Coalition for Abortion Clinics was allowed to speak.
“A person outside the university that meddles with students’ affairs is undue influence on the university,” Nieznalski said. “At the meeting we were overwhelmed with negative reactions and preconceived positions, and in that environment it’s hard to show people what you stand for.”
Nieznalski is currently waiting for a written explanation from RyeSAC as to why his group was turned down.
“The message is that pro-life students are unwanted here at the university,” he said. “Right now, it’s up to the executive and the board of directors to show that they care about students with pro-life views.”
Depending on the explanation he receives, Nieznalski said he may try to appeal RyeSAC’s decision.
“As Canadian citizens we have the right to associate with whomever we choose and the right to freely express our beliefs and principles,” he said. “These rights are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t understand why Ryerson doesn’t want us here.”