University of Manitoba Students for a Culture of Life (UMSCL), a student group that aims to educate and advocates for an end to abortion in Canada, held a Pro-Life 101 workshop Oct. 12 which was disrupted by a group of student protesters.
The protesters interrupted the workshop and chanted slogans stating that abortion is a woman’s choice while handing out pamphlets.
The workshop included a discussion on the science of conception and prenatal development, information on the group’s pro-life position, and what UMCSL is doing to support students who are parents or pregnant on campus.
Emily Haakman, former president of the student group, who also spearheaded the workshop, explained that UMSCL was born out of the need for the recognition of human rights in Canada through education.
“The group was started over five years ago by a group of students who believed in human rights and they recognized that not all human beings have human rights in Canada,” said Haakman.
“We do try to meet our goal of trying to end abortion in Canada and making abortion unthinkable in Canada through educating on abortion, and what abortion does to pre-born children.”
Haakman said that UMSCL is a secular group which engages in various projects, such as Q and A sessions aimed at fostering dialogue about abortion legislation in Canada.
“This is a project just to have dialogue with other students and get to know what the culture is like on campus, and kind of have a starting board for conversations about abortion,” she said.
“I think it’s really important that we talk about it openly.”
U of M students Elizabeth McMechan and Maya Martinez, who were among the pro-choice protestors who interrupted the workshop, argued that the group is promoting a harmful environment for many students.
“We think that they intimidate women on campus who have had abortions and who are looking to have abortions,” Martinez said.
“They’re spreading material comparing abortion to the Holocaust, to slavery, to Cambodian genocide,” she added.
Haakman said students like McMechan and Martinez, who oppose the UMSCL group, have simply misunderstood their intentions.
“What we [aim] to do is to educate, support and advocate,” she said. “So, in no way are we threatening or trying to make anyone uncomfortable but I think it’s important to know the truth.”
In 2014, UMSCL was nearly disbanded as a student group after distributing graphic images depicting aborted fetuses.
Haakman said that although their right to freedom of speech were upheld by UMSU, such imagery should make others uncomfortable.
A complaint was made to the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) regarding the tabling and distribution of graphic materials by UMSCL beside the beer gardens during this year’s Orientation Week. UMSU president Tanjit Nagra said the group was let off with a warning.
“During orientation [this year], there was a student that came to the office that did file a complaint about this group in particular handing out materials that were sensitive,” Nagra said.
“We asked them to stop handing out those materials, otherwise we would have to take their tables away.”
To address issues like these, Haakman stated that dialogue is a priority of the group, and that they are very open to engaging in respectful debates on the topic.
“That’s our number one priority – to dialogue with students,” she said.
McMechan and Martinez reiterated their position that they had no intention of debating or engaging in dialogue on the issue of abortion.
“We’re not going to debate with people who disagree with the right for women to choose their own existence, choose their livelihoods,” Martinez said.
“I think that there can be debates on abortion but it’s just that they actively support – not only through ideological, but financial measures – ways that will prevent women from getting abortions,” she added. “I oppose that they are a student group.”
Nagra said that the safety of students is of utmost importance and students should come forward if they have concerns regarding the group.
“I would never want anyone to feel uncomfortable with any of our student clubs,” she said.