A hardy group of pro-life demonstrators didn’t let the potentially hostile environment of the University of Toronto intimidate them when Canada’s abortion king Henry Morgentaler appeared there on Sept. 15.

Morgentaler brought his travelling propaganda show to U of T’s Hart House, speaking after what had been billed as a “debate” on abortion, but which actually turned out to be a vehicle for discussing various feminist viewpoints on the issue. The question itself – whether abortion is only a woman’s choice – seemed designed to steer things toward the pro-abortion camp.

Morgentaler was allowed to speak before a vote was taken on who won the debate, and no pro-life representative was invited to offer his or her input. Needless to say, with the deck stacked in its favour, the pro-abortion side won handily by a margin of almost three to one.

Outside Hart House afterwards, about a half-dozen pro-life demonstrators conducted a Show the Truth-style protest, complete with large, graphic placards bearing the images of aborted preborn children. Although police have intervened in previous Show the Truth demonstrations, and have laid obscenity charges, on this evening they watched quietly as the pro-lifers did their thing.

Perhaps surprising, the reaction of U of T students who passed the demonstration on their way out of the debate was overwhelmingly either positive or at least benign. An exception was one woman who remarked that “the idiots are here” and proceeded to tear up some pro-life literature, including Toronto Free Press articles that described how Morgentaler will receive about $5 million over the course of a 10-year lease at his Toronto abortuary.

“There was a very favorable response,” said Jeanette Benschop, one of the pro-life demonstrators. “Several dozen people stopped to talk. An hour after the debate, people were still talking to us.”

Benschop and fellow pro-lifer Ann Wilson managed to sit in on the “debate,” attended by about 400 U of T students. They managed to get through a tight security cordon (no backpacks or carrying cases were allowed in) thanks to their possession of valid university student cards.

Benschop and Wilson said that the debate was more or less a farce, especially because the debaters on the pro-life side were not, in fact, pro-life and weren’t able to argue their case effectively.

“It was more a feminist debate to some degree,” said Wilson. “They obviously weren’t well-versed pro-lifers. It tended to revolve around whether the father had a right to say something.”

After the debate, but before a vote was taken, Morgentaler rose to speak from a prepared text. He began by turning attention to himself, noting that “I am a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. I personally experienced suffering and injustice to a man devoted to an inhumane dogma.” He went on to repeat his oft-heard arguments in favour of “quality of life,” and to credit the abortion movement for helping reduce crime rates because of the elimination of “unwanted” children.

“Declining crime rate (is linked) to the availability of abortions. There are fewer unwanted children and fewer children neglected. Rage will then go down.”

Morgentaler also claimed there is a lower incidence of mental illness thanks to abortion.

“Reproductive freedom means women can give birth to ‘wanted’ babies. Fighting for reproductive freedom has contributed to a more caring society.”

Morgentaler took a shot at the pro-life movement, charging that its belief a zygote is a full-fledged human being is “absurd” and likened it to giving a brick the same respect one would to a house.

He then launched into various platitudes, claiming that “I want a world where there is love and peace … I want to contribute something to society.” He concluded by shouting, “A woman’s body. Her choice! Her right!” and so drew a rousing ovation from his partisan audience.

Benschop noted that a number of Christian students attended the debate, but seemed intimidated out of speaking by the greater presence of the other side. Nonetheless, many of them presented themselves to the pro-life demonstrators outside after the event.