Pro-lifers at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in St. John’s gained a victory recently, just two weeks after suffering a major set-back.
In 1997, the Council of the Students’ Union granted the student society MUN for Life the right to operate on campus. The following year the group was “ratified,” and granted funding. Then just one semester later, on June 30, CSU refused to renew the ratification, by a 2-vote margin.
Council closed the debate prematurely despite a 9-5 vote in favour of continuing, and the ratification vote was defeated at that point. A CBC Radio report indicated the university’s Women’s Studies Department had been trying to get MUN for Life de-ratified for some time.
Council’s action generated considerable debate on campus and in the community.
Some accused MUN for Life of sexism. Others objected to their use of fetal models.
Councillor Gloria Williams of the Women’s Resource Centre accused MUN for Life of “finger-pointing emotional abuse,” promoting discrimination, and producing hate literature.
Resource Centre official Jennifer Anthony claimed pro-lifers “are clearly aspiring to reduce (women) to biological vessels with no rights.” She objected in the campus paper to the use of student fees to “harass women,” and to MUN for Life’s distribution of “condemning pictures of fetuses” throughout the university.
CSU president Tracey O’Reilly said people objected to giving financial support to “the kinds of activities MUN for Life is involved in.”
Council member Ron Fitzpatrick responded, “The group exists to promote life, which includes stances against abortion and euthanasia. Its main activities for the past semester were fundraisers in support of unwed mothers, and sponsorship of a lecture by a theologian from Ontario.”
Many protested that the vote violated both the spirit and the letter of the Council’s constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Others pointed out that MUN for Life was not advised that its activities were considered objectionable, and that the group was given no opportunity to respond to the unsubstantiated allegations.
In a letter to the campus paper, Lorraine Cole, president of the Right to Life Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, stated that from every perspective, abortion is an injustice. She also questioned how saying “mother and child are equally precious because they are equally human” can be sexist.
Arguing that pro-lifers show compassion equally for all the parties concerned in a crisis pregnancy, Cole pointed out that “abortion supporters discriminate against the child by maintaining that it is permissible to pull a living body, bit by bit, out of the womb, or suck it out in shreds, or poison it and have the mother deliver her child dead.”
CSU vice-president Leigh Borden also voiced concern about CSU’s June 30 vote. “As far as I know, their goal is promote and protect the sanctity of human life. And until somebody proves that that’s not what they’re doing, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
CSU has since formed a committee to investigate student complaints about the actions of any student society.
On July 15, in a 12 -2 vote, the Council restored ratification to MUN for Life.
The question of ratification for all student societies will arise again routinely early in the fall semester.