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Campus Pro-Life club members display explicit signs on the corner of University Drive and 24 Ave. The club's signs have drawn complaints and sparked the creation of a pro-choice club.
Ryan May/the Gauntlet

Choice vs. Life

Pro-Life Club under fire for likening abortion to Holocaust

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Campus Pro-Life, an anti-abortion student club at the University of Calgary, stirred up controversy this week with a series of provocative displays which used graphic photos to compare abortion to historical tragedies like the Holocaust.

The display, titled the "Genocide Awareness Project" featured 4´ by 8´ placards with images of aborted fetuses alongside photographs of Holocaust victims and hanging corpses. CPL also handed out pamphlets entitled "Unmasking 'Choice'" in which abortion was compared directly to the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the lynching of African-Americans in the United States during the Jim Crow era.

Some groups and individuals on campus were offended by the content of the displays, set up at the University LRT station on Tue., Mar. 22 and at the intersection of University Dr. and 24th avenue on Wed., Mar. 23. In fact, an entirely new organization sprang up on campus to stage a counter-demonstration against CPL.

As a result of the display, CPL is now embroiled in a battle with U of C administration, as posters they put up on campus were torn down by Campus Security and three of their members have allegedly been banned from campus.

"We're here to raise awareness about the truth of what abortion is," said Josh Nugent, CPL Vice-President and display coordinator at the train station.

The depictions of the Holocaust were deeply upsetting for members of the Jewish community on campus.

"I understand that it's an important issue, but you can't drag the Holocaust into it," said Hillel President Leah Gingrich.

"The means and the ends aren't the same. Imagine if a student here was raped and conceived a child. Her choosing to have an abortion is not the same as the Nazis murdering Jews. I think if [Holocaust] survivors saw this, they'd be outraged."

CPL feels that the graphic nature of the images was a necessary evil.

"We find the images upsetting," said CPL President Theresa Nugent. "We don't like them either, we're just trying to show that right now abortion is horrible and these babies have been denied their person-hood."

The display at the LRT station sparked the founding of Campus Pro-Choice, a group of concerned students who staged a counter-demonstration directly across the street from the Mar. 23 pro-life display.

"This is a spontaneous reaction to what was going on yesterday," said Andrea Ryer, spokesperson for the fledgling group. "We want to establish that there's more than just that opinion on campus. We also want to refute some of the claims they're making, like the claim that abortion causes breast cancer."

The displays were held off of U of C property. CPL claims in a press release--and in several letters from their lawyer they have retained for their case--that this was because the Students' Union and U of C administration censored them and denied them their right to put up the display on campus.

Administration disagrees.

"We gave them three options." said Roman Cooney, U of C VP External , "First, to put the full display inside Mac Hall, second to put a scaled-down display on the south lawn or third to go off-campus. The only restriction was on the size of the photos. We made this decision because the images are deeply offensive to many on campus. We would argue that images of hangings and Holocaust victims are not debate, they're provocation."

Cooney was also concerned about the possibility of 100-200 children aged 6-16 on campus for a dance festival being exposed to the graphic content.

The SU felt the display would likely inflame tensions on campus. They suspended their approval until Campus Security was able to address their concerns.

"The SU didn't deny them the right to put on their presentation, but we respect Campus Security," commented SU President Bryan West. "Any event is subject to security approval. That's the name of the game. They weren't denied, they were just restricted and I guess they aren't happy about that."

Even though the displays were held off campus, security concerns did present themselves. Police were called to the display at the train station as two different men came and ripped the posters.

Campus Security was called upon to remove posters that CPL posted around campus. According to Nugent, Campus Security also banned her and CPL club members Natalie Sanesh and Charles Marple from campus for an unspecified amount of time. CPL claimed Campus Security were unwilling to provide a reason for the ban in writing.

"No student has been banned, that is flatly incorrect," said Cooney "No students were banned, some non-students have been banned indefinitely."

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Comments

While I agree that exposing 6 year olds to the graphic content of that protest is not a smart idea, and that the SU was right in protecting visiting children from that. But it's funny how the SU is fine with exposing visitors, children or other, to naked strippers, hired by the SU, walking around campus.

And that's not graphic content?

Abortion is another form of genocidal killing against the innocent child in the womb. It is a modern day holocaust. It needs to be exposed.Those Pro-Life students have courage. As to the University administration they are trying to censor free speech and free expression. Are they so politically correct that they afraid for the truth of this atrocity to be shown in public?

As someone who has family that died in the holocaust, I find it offensive that this is compared. This had nothing to do with a holocaust, genocide, racism or anything of the like.

Please make sure your using the right words to fight your battle. By using the wrong ones you actually discredit your arguement!

Spoken like the true ignorant man you must be Stephen Gray! The right to choose means that for the first time in thousands of years - WOMEN have control over their bodies. Not the men who have sex with them, not the government, but WOMEN. Do you think all contraceptives are wrong too? Is masturbation just like a little holocaust every time it happens (think about all the sperm that could have one day been life!)? 90% of anti-choice supporters are men and 100% of them will never be pregnant, so they should keep their nose out of it.

Actually, Michelle, you are just as ignorant as Stephen. That's the problem with this debate. Both sides resort to hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric and have absolutely no empathy for the other side.

As someone who is (moderately, if that's possible) pro-life, I found the display offensive. Comparing fetuses who are definately not perfectly formed human beings to humans who were systematically eliminated does little to further to pro-life cause and is frankly embarassing. No one who was pro-choice before is going to be pro-life as a result of this display. However, many people who were pro-choice before now regard pro-lifers as totally ridiculous. In that light, I would regard the display a total and utter failure. People don't need to be shocked to be convinced.

As for the other side, what makes choice a virtue in and of itself? I can make any number of choices, that doesn't make them right. The reality is that a fetus is at a minimum a growing human organism, especially in the third trimester. There cannot be choice in the absence of personal responsibility. "Abortion on demand" should make us reel in horror not because we abhor choice, but because we abhor an absence of personal responsibility for one's actions that results in the death of something that may well be alive or at least could be alive.

I think that the cause of both sides would be better served by some rational and respectful debate that is at least as logical as it is passionate.

I am one of the people mentioned in the article who responded inappropriately by tearing the G.A.P. posters. I was charged with criminal mischief under $5000 for this event, and detained briefly by police for an unrelated matter (a warrant for a forgotten and unpaid civic fine ("littering" on the Red Mile last year :)). I was also the recipient of a suspicious phonecall the evening of this event, from out-of-area (claiming to be a local remax realtor confirming my home address indirectly by asking if I was planning to sell my "condo" at XXX street (apartment actually)) - interestingly, one of the "victims" who had access to the police reports and my name was from Edmonton. Hmm, I'm probably on a hate list somewhere. Anyway, I attended court today and fortunately was referred to alternative measures, which means I will not have a criminal record for this unfortunate event.

I most regret the fact that I fell into a blatent trap. Campus Pro-Life expected someone who fit my shoes to come along, and they were well prepared for when I did. These posters are designed to provoke people, and garner attention and/or sympathy through negative confrontations with the people who are offended by them. The reason for my offense is not that I am troubled by the violent photographs of abortion, as G.A.P. would have you believe, but that the cheap exploitation of these horrible historical atrocities is apalling to me.

I was foolish enough to attempt to take down these displays, an act which caused me much anguish over the last month - including the embarassment of being followed around (in view of my colleagues) by three individuals chattering on cell-phones to police and campus security, while videotaping me. In a fit of disgust and anxiety I was shouting all kinds of obscenities into their camera and their faces, which in my opinion was well deserved, albeit fruitless.

I would strongly advise that others recognize the tactics this group uses and avoid falling into their obvious trap. They are clearly prepared for people who attempt to disrupt their display, and will use every legal technicality at their disposal to cause you grief. And hey, it is wrong to destroy the vehicle for someone else's opinions, no matter how vile those opinions may be. A better idea would be to hang or hold a large bedsheet in front of their ridiculous display, with a warning along the lines "Offensive political exploitation of historical atrocities ahead".

You should also be aware that this group attempts to misrepresent offense at their displays as either (a) censorship / avoidance of legitimate political debate or (b) horror at the visual evidence of abortion. It is neither. It is simply disgust with underhanded and reprehensible debate tactics. It is best, in light of ridiculous debate tactics, to avoid debate entirely. This sounds like a cop-out, but there is no reasonable defense for or against these kinds of positions - they are deeply emotional and highly subjective. The only concrete thing I can say about this subject is that historical genocides are hate-motivated and designed to exterminate entire people based on their ethnicities, and are morally wrong by consensus. Abortion is a contentious political issue with no such moral consensus, and clearly it is neither motivated by hatred nor desire to cleanse the earth of developing fetuses.

Watch yourselves, and don't fall into the trap of getting into extended confrontations with these guys. Publicity is the only goal of this type of display, not reasoned debate.

Some links to anti-choice people:

www.abortionno.org
http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/mar/05032307.html

Some information about other trouble this group has caused:

http://www.studentsforchoice.com/history.html