By Shannon Higgins
Twenty years after Canada decriminalized abortion, an Ontario student lobby group is stirring controversy by backing student unions that want to stop pro-life groups from organizing on campus.
The Ryerson Students’ Union was dragged into the debate after they raised concerns that the unions were breaching freedom of speech.
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario passed a motion this month to support Lakehead University Students’ Union (LUSU), which denied club status to pro-life group Life Support.
Using the term anti-choice, rather than pro-life, CFS-Ontario voted to back an emergency motion that read: “member (unions) that refuse to allow anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space be supported.”
“You wouldn’t take public money to put in an organization that moves to take away people’s rights, you wouldn’t fund the KKK,” said Shelley Melanson, Women’s Representative on the National Executive of the CFS.
“Not with student space. Not with student resources.” She argues that the primary mandate of anti-choice groups is to criminalize abortion and promote the belief that abortion is morally wrong.
Pro-life students say the CFS misunderstands their point of view. “Pro-life students are being labelled wrongly. We are in no way trying to point fingers at women who have had abortions,” said Theresa Matters, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, a Canadian organization that helps student pro-life groups, including Life Support at Lakehead University.
“I definitely do not consider myself anti-choice. It’s just when that choice infringes on somebody else.”
The Ryerson Students’ Union attended the conference and tried to amend the motion to specify that pro-life groups would have to be harassing students before the CFS would support a union decision to take away space and resources.
“The motion, as it was, was too simple for the incredibly weighted issue which it addressed,” said Laura Moses, deputy chairperson education for the graduate executive.
She worries the ambiguous term anti-choice could be applied to religious organizations that oppose abortion.
“Who are we to filter or censor information for Ryerson students?” Moses met stiff opposition.
“I thought it was strange and vaguely offensive to say that anti-choice groups should be given money on the basis of free speech,” said Sandy Hudson, the CFS-Ontario Women’s Commissioner.
The amendment failed and the RSU abstained from voting on the original motion. “As a student union we are very pro-choice. No one disagrees with a woman’s right to choose,” said Heather Kere, RSU VP Education, adding that any group that harasses students or infringes on student-safe space isn’t welcome.
The RSU opposes graphic imagery used in campaigns like the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) which liken abortion to genocide.
Matters said some groups use graphic images to get their message across. “We help the clubs, but we don’t run them.
Ultimately it’s their decision on what to do … you can’t paint everybody with the same brush,” she said.
Louisa Chow, a third-year biology student doesn’t agree with the CFS motion. “I don’t think we should ban them because they’re offensive,” she said. “It’s just a different point of view voicing different opinions.”