When Amanda Collins walked into Mac-Corry and caught sight of the Queen’s Alive booth, she first noticed the stack of bookmarks that read “Women DO regret their abortions!” and then she noticed the poster advertising their upcoming movie night.
After her visit to the booth last semester, Collins, ArtSci ‘19, wrote a letter to the AMS registering a complaint against the club. It wouldn’t be the first time in the controversial group’s history they’d faced a complaint from students.
Since 1985, Queen’s Alive has been an AMS-sanctioned and officially ratified club, with eight executives and around 30 participants. Their mission statement is “affirming the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.”
Collins described her interaction with club to The Journal via Facebook Messenger. “They kept asking me if I believed in human rights as a response to anything I said,” Collins said of the individuals at the booth. Collins also said that the person at the booth “tried to compare abortion to the Holocaust.”
Her reasons for complaining weren’t personal, according to Collins. “It was mostly just upsetting to see such aggressive and false information being put out in a space where anyone could have seen it ... or having it lead to making a big decision based on biased information.”
In her complaint to the AMS, a copy of which she provided to The Journal, Collins wrote, “One of the many beautiful traits Queen’s University offers is diversity in many aspects, especially in the wide variety of clubs and activities to choose from ... However, there are a few aspects about this particular club you have allowed to represent the Queen’s community that I fear does more harm than good.”
Controversy surrounding Queen’s Alive has been recorded in previous Journal articles for years. In 2011, Queen’s Alive stirred campus by inviting Stephanie Gray, co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform’s to present a talk entitled ‘Echoes of the Holocaust’ — a presentation that compared aborted fetuses to Holocaust victims.
Another complaint against the group, filed in 2015, stemmed from a student who claimed that the club was spreading misinformation. The student, Raven Adamson, ArtSci ’18, said members of the group had told her repeatedly that “a woman could get an abortion up until the day before a baby was due.”
Abortions are, in fact, legal in Canada at any stage in the pregnancy, but only if the woman can find a doctor willing to perform the procedure. However, the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health statistics show that abortions are highly uncommon after 20 weeks, and are most often performed when there are serious fetal defects or to protect the mother’s health.
Despite their history, according to AMS Clubs Manager Grace Kim ArtSci ‘17, there’s no clause in the AMS Constitution that Queen’s Alive is in danger of breaking. In addition, ratified clubs under the AMS operate autonomously and Queen’s Alive has rights under the AMS Constitution.
“We allow any idea to exist on campus. There are obviously still people that believe in this idea, even if it does make other people uncomfortable. The line would be if they broke the student or AMS Code of Conduct,” Kim said of the Mac-Corry boothing situation. “They weren’t chasing anyone down. If you didn’t want to engage you could just walk by.”
In Canada, the pro-life movement is a minority and abortion rates are decreasing. According to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, in 2007 the total number of abortions recorded in Canada was 98,762. In 2014, the number decreased to 81,897. Meanwhile, in 2016, only 14 per cent of Canadians identified as entirely pro-life, according to a nation wide survey by the Angus Reid Institute.
Co-executives of Queen’s Alive, Rebecca LaBarr and Christine Helferty, are members of that 14 per cent.
“We stand for the truth and we believe strongly that science teaches us that the preborn are human beings, and that they deserve human rights. We’re not ashamed of our beliefs, and we’re not ashamed of the truth,” said Helferty of Queen’s Alive’s message.
While their ultimate goal would be the de-legalization of abortion, the group’s current message is the importance of human rights for people of all “developmental levels.”
Planned Parenthood, an international not-for-profit organization that provides reproductive health services is often viewed as the leader for abortion rights. They’re also responsible for providing university students and many other women with sexual health information and resources.
Only 3 per cent of their services are providing abortions.
When asked if they support Planned Parenthood’s purpose as a strategic means of lowering abortion rates, LaBarr said, “we can’t support Planned Parenthood because they perform abortions, and that goes against our beliefs.”
However, abortion clinic canvassing isn’t currently in their repertoire. “Our mission is talking to students on campus. Right now, it’s not in [our mission] to got to clinics. We just want to change minds,” Helferty said.
The executives of Queen’s Alive believe that abortions are wrong in any circumstance — even if it results from sexual assault.
“Life is full of difficult circumstances. Sexual assault is a difficult circumstance. But we can’t kill anyone because of a difficult circumstance,” Helferty said, when asked specifically about instances of sexual assault.
When discussing their steadfast stance on the topic, Helferty and LaBarr described an unnamed woman who reached out to them. According to Helferty, the woman had told them that she “found her abortion to be more traumatizing than her rape.”
Whether being pro-life is ethical has been brought up a lot in conversations with students around campus, Helferty said, but the interactions between students and Queen’s Alive are generally low-key. “So far our interactions with students have been respectful. We had one group of protesters that showed up at our booth for a while, but they were always nice to us.”
The climate on university campuses is generally pro-choice, leaving pro-life groups like Queen’s Alive on the outs.
In 2010, members of Carleton Lifeline, a pro-life group at Carleton University, hosted a display during Genocide Awareness month featuring a comparison of abortion to the Holocaust. Several members were arrested and charged with trespassing, including Queen’s Alive president at the time, Zuza Kurzawa. Carleton Lifeline was defunded following the incident.
The next year in 2011, the Universities of Ottawa, Victoria, Calgary and Guelph placed bans on on-campus anti-abortion groups.
As it currently stands, as an AMS-ratified club, Queen’s Alive is subject to the same rights as any other group on campus, as well as the same responsibilities, illustrating for many the difficulty of the limits of free speech on university campuse — limits that aren’t easily discernible lines in the sand, but rather seem to zigzag without clear barriers in sight.
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