by Karen Stiller
A Canadian university campus just might be one of the most difficult places to be actively pro-life. We’ve all heard the disturbing reports of pro-life groups being shut down by totalitarian-style student unions, of displays ripped to shreds, of cancelled events and banned speakers.
As we gather testimonials for a fascinating spread in our upcoming May/June Faith Today from students across the country who are actively pro-life on campus, the years fall away and I’m back at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.
It was 1989 -1990, the last two years of my undergraduate degree when I was swept into that city’s pro-life movement. The heat had risen because a Morgentaler clinic opened up. Pro-life activists in Halifax were galvanized for action.
I was new to being pro-life (in fact, had been just the opposite for many years). I was compelled to change my position because of my newly-committed life as a Christ-follower. I could no longer reconcile abortion and its tragic lack of imagination as a solution for women and their children, with the compassionate Christ I now followed.
I went from being ardently pro-choice to picketing outside a clinic on the other side. How I hated that experience of picketing, which was the experience of being hated by those who disagreed.
Things accelerated on campus.
My boyfriend and I (now husband for 25 years) started Students for Life, a pro-life group at Dalhousie. Our posters (before they were ripped off the walls of course) attracted a motley crew who met together weekly to plot strategy. Our activism consisted mostly of information tables and posters. We used material from Feminists for Life because we thought it had the best intellectual appeal.
Nothing, though, would have built a bridge to those who so vehemently disagreed with us. There was no middle meeting ground, no reasonable discussion.
From the sounds of things, it has just gotten worse. It’s not unusual these days to have lawyers involved as pro-life groups fight for the right to even exist.
Back then, I met with the editorial staff of the Dalhousie Gazette, who stood before me like a firing squad, so I could (successfully in the end) argue why they should accept an advertisement offering help to women having complications after an abortion. I spoke at student election rallies arguing why the student union should not adopt an official pro-choice position. Amazingly, we won that one too.
I don’t know if the group we started still exists at Dalhousie. I imagine it has ebbed and flowed with the thickness of the skin of those around at any given time. What I do know, from the strong response Faith Today received to our request for quotes on why people are involved in the pro-life movement, is that campus pro-life students are strong and steadfast in an atmosphere that could not be more charged.
When we left Halifax for graduate studies in Vancouver, I was relieved. I needed a break from being hissed and booed at when I was standing in a line to register for a class.
But as astonishingly unpopular as being pro-life on campus is, there is something wonderful about fighting together with a small band of brothers and sisters for something incredibly important. It was awful. And it was also fun.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Watch for the May/June issue of Faith Today and our tribute to pro-life campus activists in Canada. Read an update about one campus group’s fight to exist in the latest Faith Today. Subscribe now for our best price ever.