Calgary Pro-life defies university

By  Jessica Williams, Youth Speak News
  • December 5, 2008
{mosimage}CALGARY - Despite being threatened with arrest, suspension and even expulsion by school officials, members of Campus Pro-life at the University of Calgary erected the controversial Genocide Awareness Project display outside the university on Nov. 26 and 27.  

The university’s stance against the controversial display was that the GAP display “would likely trigger acts of violence” and that by refusing to comply with the university, the pro-life group was trespassing on private property, said lawyer Paul Beke in a letter to CPL. The GAP campaign shows graphic images of the results of abortion, as well as pictures of the development of a fetus.

At a Nov. 26 press conference, Leah Hallman, president of CPL, said: “Arrest us, charge us, expel us, do what you want with these bodies of ours, but for every pro-lifer who suffers for the cause, perhaps, just perhaps, another life will be born into this world.”
The university may still take legal steps against CPL, but Hallman said that the plan is to continue to defy the school officials, even if it ends up in court.  

Encompassing both the debate about abortion and a free-speech battle, the GAP display was effective in getting people to debate and to talk about the issue, said Hallman.  

“This year we had a lot of people open up with their personal stories (of abortion) and because of that, we were able to convey a message of compassion. Hopefully those women find healing,” Hallman said.  

The graphic images did cause many people to cringe or avert their eyes completely as they walked by. However, CPL members insist that for some, the images are effective.  

“I didn’t fully understand what abortion was until I saw the images,” said Hallman. “Is it wrong to show pictures of something that is legal?”

Though many who saw the images were angry and expressed themselves loudly and passionately to CPL members, Hallman said, “We have to recognize that these people who are yelling at us are often the ones who are hurting, so we try to keep that in mind. It takes a huge amount of compassion, mercy and love.”

Many students complained that the GAP display is offensive and disgusting, and said that abortion is not something that can be compared to the Holocaust or to the Rwandan genocide.  

“I don’t think it’s freedom of speech to propagate hate and an atmosphere of guilt,” said Aleesha Bray, who majors in women’s studies and sociology at the university. “I don’t think their intent is to make anyone feel better about themselves,” she added, referring to women who have experienced abortion.  

This sentiment could be heard in many discussions surrounding the display.

“There are far less graphic, far more touching ways to get this message across,” said David Wimbush, a history major. “They have every right to put up signs, but the imagery is wrong for the issue.”

Students had allegedly complained about seeing the images in past years and the university had asked that CPL turn their signs inward so that passing students wouldn’t have to see the graphic imagery unless they chose to do so.

“That’s like saying, ‛You can express your opinion as long as nobody can hear you,’ ” said CPL member Cameron Wilson.

Anita Sonntag, from the organization Silent No More, made up primarily of women who regret their abortions, was invited from Saskatoon by CPL to come and talk about her experience and about Silent No More during the display.

“When I first heard about GAP I thought it sounded awful, but I’ve come to know that it’s an effective way to let people know what abortion really looks like.”

Sonntag said the CPL members had a lot of courage to be out there and that the university’s threats showed they must be “frightened of the truth.” Though faculty might talk about violence, this is the sixth GAP display that CPL members have erected, and the sixth time there has been no violence. CPL’s letter to the university’s lawyer stated: “When the peaceful expression of an opinion is threatened by violence, the appropriate solution is the provision of security, not censorship of the opinion.”

(Williams, 22, studies communications at Mount Royal College in Calgary.)    

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