National Campus Life Network symposium draws leaders from across the country

By Mike Mastromatteo
The Interim

Canada’s pro-life university students have emerged from a trying year with a renewed commitment to defending human life on campuses across the country.

An optimistic tone prevailed at this year’s National Campus Life Network (NCLN) symposium, January 14-16 at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. More than 50 students attended this year’s gathering to share experiences as university pro-lifers and to discuss new ways of promoting a culture of life among their peers.

The NCLN now represents more than 20 post-secondary institutions coast to coast. The organization was established in 1997 to bring a pro-life voice to Canada’s university community, and to encourage the development of future leaders. One of the biggest problems faced by student pro-life workers is maintaining their involvement once graduating from high school and university.

Promoting a culture of life in the often-cynical university environment is difficult in the best of times. In 1999 however, student pro-lifers faced additional challenges from radical feminist groups, hostile or indifferent university administrators, and abortion supporters, who refused opportunities to engage in open debate. At the University of Western Ontario, the University of British Columbia and elsewhere, abortion supporters silenced criticism and discussion by claiming that abortion is beyond debate.

One of the highlights of this year’s symposium was a return performance by noted pro-life educator Scott Klusendorf of California, who challenged students to master the art of pro-life persuasion. Following on last year’s appearance at the NCLN gathering, Klusendorf said students face the difficult task of arguing the right-to-life position in a culture that no longer sees abortion as a serious moral wrong.

Klusendorf has gained a reputation as one of North America’s foremost pro-life apologists. His Stand to Reason organization aims at educating students to become ambassadors for the pro-life position. Klusendorf recently completed work on his book, Pro-Life 101: Making Your Case on Campus.

Although he encouraged students in defence of life, Klusendorf said the movement is in danger of losing the battle for public opinion. “We are currently in a war of ideas, and we are not winning that war,” he told students. “It is your job to master the abortion debate and overcome the self-serving rhetoric of your opponents.”

Klusendorf offered a condensed version of his pro-life training program at the 2000 symposium. It centred on recognizing pro-life rationalizations, exposing the harsh reality of abortion, and emphasizing the humanity of the unborn child.

“We need to reach secular campuses by training pro-life students to defend their views persuasively,” Klusendorf told The Interim after the symposium. “Otherwise, pro-life students will be marginalized, or worse yet, talked out of their convictions.”

Other speakers addressing the symposium included Calgary Reform MP Jason Kenney, Angelina Steenstra of Second Chance Ministries, and moral theologian Bridget Campion of St. Augustine’s Seminary.

Steenstra’s presentation on post-abortion syndrome touched on the distortion and denial of reality that surrounds the abortion industry. Steenstra, who underwent an abortion as a teenager, told students that denial began immediately after the procedure.

“I had no idea what impact those few minutes would have on the rest of my life,” she said. “The way out was to adopt a set of values that would uphold the lie that I was living.”

Moral theologian Bridget Campion offered students insights on the development of “pro-life feminism.” She said the traditional feminist demand for abortion stems from the view that pregnancy impedes a woman’s autonomy and her ability to compete with men on an equal footing. Unfortunately, she said, the traditional feminist view of abortion attacks the unborn child as a means of dealing with unwanted pregnancy.

Campion called for a “woman-centred anti-abortion argument” that would not only take account of the different roles for men and women, but would promote a healthier attitude to pregnancy, children and families.

NCLN executive director Denise Black said the organization is continually evaluating strategies to help students deal with the specific problems they encounter on campus. She said the NCLN hopes to increase its profile within Canada’s pro-life community by sending representatives to major pro-life gatherings, and by liaising with high-school groups.

“Pro-life students advocate a life-affirming attitude in their research and studies,” Black said. “They are the future leaders who will help to develop our culture and society in a positive direction. Even now, students are doing research and working with professors to change the nature of the educational system.”

Black said a longer-term goal of NCLN is to replace the educational system’s indifference to pro-life themes with at attitude that is open to the culture of life.

The National Campus Life Network has been at the forefront of using the latest communications technology to promote its work. The NCLN can be reached via the Internet at