Interim StaffPro-lifers got a dose of encouragement recently in Toronto. Speaking at a prestigious private school conference with anti-life activists, pro-life speakers found that students, on the whole, favoured the pro-life position.

The World Affairs Conference in Toronto, a symposium sponsored by Upper Canada College and Branksome Hall, two local private schools, featured several life issues as part of its 2004 event: “Taking the Pulse: Ethics and Health in the 21st Century.”

Campaign Life Coalition’s director of research, Gillian Long, was invited to speak on abortion, and shared the platform with a speaker from the Pro-Choice Action Network, Joyce Arthur. The event was unusual in that pro-abortion activists usually refuse to debate pro-lifers, or even speak at the same venue, presumably because their arguments are revealed to be baseless when compared to the sound philosophical reasoning of the pro-life movement. Arthur, normally a proponent of the policy, agreed to speak at the event, but not to debate Long, said Gabriella Siciliano, one of the student organizers. Henry Morgentaler, the infamous abortionist, spoke at a similar event in the morning, but unlike the other plenary sessions, which featured speakers from both sides of issues, Morgentaler spoke with no pro-life presence.

The abortion session was attended by about 130 students. Long explained to the students the philosophical and scientific basis for the humanity of the unborn. She asked them to question why the unborn were treated differently from other groups of human beings, and pointed out that their lack of “personhood” in the eyes of the law was not a valid reason to withhold human rights from them. Her point that even women had not been considered persons in Canada until 1929 seemed to hit home with the students, especially the young women. In all, the students seemed very receptive to Long’s message.

Organizers allowed Long to show graphic abortion photos, but placed a warning on the doors of the auditorium stating that some viewers may find the material offensive. The students were visibly moved by the photos of first-trimester aborted fetuses, gasping in dismay as the dismembered bodies were displayed on the screen.

Arthur’s talk, as is usual with pro-abortion speakers, had no basis in science or philosophy. She told the students about her own abortion experience, explaining that she had become pregnant when, “in a moment of passion,” she failed to use her usual method of birth control. Her boyfriend abandoned her, but they reunited after the abortion and married. They have not had any more children since.

Portraying the unborn child as an intruder, Arthur’s main argument seemed to be that women want to have promiscuous sex while remaining childless, and should be able to do so even if it means killing their child to achieve that goal.

Although Long was denied the opportunity to respond to any of the errors and misrepresentations Arthur made in her talk, she was relieved to see she didn’t have to. The question and answer period revealed that the students considered Arthur’s arguments weak, baseless and selfish.

“Those kids were amazing. They really gave me hope that things are turning around,” Long told The Interim after the talk. “They went after her on every evil, selfish thing she said. They did my job for me. A debate didn’t happen on the stage, but it did happen in the hearts and minds of those students.”

Students questioned Arthur on why she could not provide any scientific reasoning to back up her statements, and why taxpayers should be responsible for her capriciousness in “a moment of passion.”

The most surprising outcome of the day, however, was that Arthur, apparently rattled by the wave of pro-life support, slipped out of her pro-abortion rhetoric and admitted that abortion kills a baby. “Without legal, safe abortions, women die,” Arthur claimed, dodging the question of a student who asked her to explain how abortion isn’t murder. “Abortions still happen, the baby dies anyway.” Arthur consistently claims that children in the womb are not individual, living human beings, and insists on referring to them as fetuses and embryos, so Long was surprised to hear her refer to them as “babies” who could “die.”

“I’m just glad we got it on tape. No one would believe me otherwise,” Long said.

Arthur has written several e-mails complaining about coverage of the event in The Interim’s internet arm, Lifesite. She admitted that there was a palpable pro-life sentiment in the room, but claimed it was because Long had invited supporters.

“I went to it like any other speaking event – I don’t bring my ‘supporters,'” Long explained. “Why would I preach to the choir? We have too much work to do to follow each other around listening to stuff we already know. I brought one colleague with me to take photos and record the event. But he was very quiet during question period, so Ms Arthur can be sure it wasn’t my supporters grilling her. It was students who saw through her ridiculous ‘rhetoric.'”

After the talk, students surrounded Long’s table to take her card and get information on pro-life websites. Arthur left quickly, unattended by the few pro-abortion students in the audience.