On Saturday may 13 spring was enhanced by Toronto’s first Youth for Life Conference.  The conference arose from a need to learn more about how abortion affects our community, and more importantly to network with other young people to give the framework to build support groups within their schools.

Over 70 pro-life teens from area high schools congregated in the cafeteria of Saint Michael’s Collage School. June Scandiffio, president of the Right to Life Association of Toronto, and organizer of the conference took to podium first.

She congratulated the students on attending and scorned the media’s negative image of youth. She challenged the budding pro-lifers with the questions, “When did your rights begin?” and “What are your rights as part of a human community?” As her speech continued, the much-circulated word choice began to emerge as the prevalent motif. She stressed that abortion and the pro-life agenda was not just a religious issue but a concern to everyone.

Next she presented a slide show titles, “Life is a Continuum” identifying, articulating, and clarifying respect for all human life from conception to natural death.  Mrs. Scandiffio eloquently summed up her speech by quoting George Orwell, “Before we can change ideology we must first change language.”

Presenting next was Angelina Steenstra, co-founder of Second Chance Ministries, which offers spiritual and peer counseling, as well as public education on abortion aftermath.  She immediately took the students on a spiritual odyssey, chronicling her own troubled youth.

Her first and only encounter with sex at the tender age of 15 left her pregnant. She painfully described the lack of information available on the physiological and psychological dangers of abortion. Suffering from low self-esteem, with an ambivalent boyfriend, and afraid what her parents would say, she decided to abort the baby. There was an uncomfortable silence as many of the students faces reflected the sadness of her tale.  David Rebello, 18, from Northmount described the talk as a, “a very sobering experience.”

Mrs. Steendtra pleaded with all present to be faithful to their inner messages.  She knew abortion was wrong but at the age of 15 could not find the courage to be true to herself.  By 17, she began more than a decade of dysfunctional relationships, and substance abuse, a complete detachment from her own inner message until on day she re-emerged into God’s light. Hers was a painfully slow healing process, but coming to terms with her abortion an with post abortion syndrome gave Angelina a new found freedom.

Before lunch, the students organized themselves into workshop groups. The co-ordinator, Kathleen Rose, instructed all to discuss the post abortion syndrome and again review both June and Angelina’s speeches.

After lunch, sponsored by Mr. Frank D’Angelo of “The Messengers” and Mr. Joseph Pope, an energetic group of students representing Challenge ’95 took center stage.  The students of challenge ’95 will spend six weeks crossing the country, bringing a positive message to youth on sexuality. While identifying that sex is good, they stressed it can only be appreciated with the context of marriage.

Last year Challenge ’94 reached out to 60,000 students. This year they hope to top that.  The last to speak was Joanne Dieleman, whose name is familiar to many in the pro-life movement. Joanne has provided many women with the strength and courage to carry their pregnancies to term. She is co-director at the Aid-to-Women Crisis Pregnancy Center, in Toronto.

The last workshop was a review of all the material covered. As I quietly walked around the groups of students, I was impressed with their sincerity and conviction.