Two recent events brought the pro-life message to hundreds of Toronto area high school students, educating students to become conversant on the issue of abortion and inspiring them to become more involved in the issue.
Toronto Right to Life Association joined the University of Toronto Students for Life, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Student Life Link to host the Respect for Life Student Leadership Conference for Toronto-area Catholic high school students May 1 at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, attended by more than 200 students. There, students from about a dozen schools, heard broadcaster and Interim columnist Michael Coren, Rebecca Richmond and Theresa Gilbert from NCLN, Jonathon Van Maren of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Alissa Golob of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, and Debbie Fisher of Toronto Right to Life and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, amongst other speakers.
On May 22, about 200 students from St. Theresa of Lisieux High School in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, attended a one-day in-school series of workshops organized by the school’s Social Justice Council, which was sponsored by Toronto Right to Life and Student Life Link. Fr. Tom Lynch gave the keynote address and Student Life Link’s Lia Mills, Angelina Steenstra of Silent No More, and Blaise Alleyne of Toronto Right to Life joined Golob in addressing the workshops.
Coren told the students assembled at St. Michael’s College it was “a big problem that Catholic schools that should be universally pro-life are not,” but added that abortion is not just a religious issue. He said science shows there is only one definition of human life and that it begins at conception. He said “choice doesn’t trump the right to life” and said the problem is not that the unborn have no voice, but rather “we are too complacent.”
The other speakers taught the students how to be the voice of the unborn. The NCLN’s Rebecca Richmond got to the heart of the issue describing the pro-life position: the intentional killing of an innocent human being is wrong, abortion kills an innocent human being, therefore abortion is wrong. She said that “if abortion is not the killing of a human being, no justification is necessary but if abortion is the killing of a human being, no justification is sufficient.” She addressed specific justifications typically offered for abortion – the SLED arguments based on Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency – and said none of those arguments would justify killing a newborn or other human being so they cannot be used to justify killing an unborn child. She told the students, “it is not enough to believe pro-life, you have to do things to challenge the culture.”
Theresa Matters urged students be bold, saying “when the country is on fire we need to grab hoses, not buckets.” She said high school students are an important voice because 15 per cent of abortions are carried out on high school students. Furthermore, she said “future leaders need to hear the pro-life message from their peers.”
Debbie Fisher recounted her abortion experience and said she “would have kept my baby if I knew it had feet and fingers.” She described the pro-life message as one of “mercy and hope” and urged the students to share it as widely as possible.
CCBR’s Van Maren talked about the effective use of graphic images in past social reforms and how they are part of the box of tools pro-lifers can use to educate the broader public. He said “public policy won’t change until public opinion changes,” using the example of William Wilberforce who showed images of beaten slaves and the reality of slave ships to move England toward banning the slave trade.
Fr. Lynch told the students at St. Theresa that if they did not build a Culture of Life, others would build a different type of culture. He urged them to build a culture “that will not abandon the vulnerable, that will not tell people they are better off dead.”
Blaise Alleyne provided rebuttals to bad pro-abortion arguments and reiterating a point made by the NCLN’s Richmond, urged focusing any discussion on the unborn, using stories and asking questions to force others to face the implications of their logic. He said that there are four groups of people involved in every injustice: victims, perpetrators, by-standers, and defenders. He said victims do not usually have a choice in what they are, but role others play is a deliberate decision.
Golob told students how they can become involved in pro-life issues. She urged them to attend conferences, take part in demonstrations, wear t-shirts, share information online, pray at 40 Days for Life, and contact their MPs. She said politics is usually boring, “but pro-life politics is never boring.” She said wearing pro-life t-shirts “open a dialogue.” She said start discussions about abortion. “We want to talk about abortion” she said, in order to get people to think about the issue and challenge the status quo in which nearly 300 unborn children are killed daily in Canada. She said, “it is our obligation to speak out.”
Mills provided a lesson in pro-life apologetics and Steenstra recounted her own abortion experience.
Anita Nassr, a staff advisor to the Social Justice Council, told The Interim when they were planning the event, some students wanted pro-life to be part of a series of talks that would also address poverty and homelessness among other issues. But eventually the students “realized it was a social justice issue.”
Renata Iskander, a Grade 10 student and co-chair of the event, has attended the National March for Life the past two years and invited speakers based on who she heard in Ottawa in 2011. She told The Interim she was convinced that many of her fellow students needed to be educated about life issues and that the council had to raise awareness. “Social justice begins in the womb,” she said. “Other issues are important, but it starts with the fact that they need to be born.