A controversial pro-life journalist was invited to campus earlier this week to tackle what pro-life students say is an all-too-common problem for them—the representation of anti-abortion activists in the media.
Michael Coren, a weekly columnist for the Toronto Sun, talk radio anchor and host of CTS’s TV Michael Coren Live, spoke before aproximately 75 people at an event organized by St. Mike’s and U of T group Students for Life.
“If I was talking about Don Cherry and hockey, there would have been two hundred people,” Coren joked at the start of his talk.
In addition to being Coren’s sister-in-law, Students for Life executive Elaine Barber invited Coren to speak because “he is respected by pro-choice and pro-life people, and we’ve heard that he’s great with young people.”
Fellow executive of St. Mike’s Students for Life David Elliot voiced concern about pro-life supporters being both underrepresented and misrepresented by the media.
“The media are always quick to separate terrorism from Islam, but rarely make the same distinction between violence committed by a select few from the pro-life movement as a whole,” said Elliot. “Our collective is comprised of Christians, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, and we are certainly not reflective of the Canadian Alliance or the Christian right.”
Despite his lecture’s title, “Abortion Bias in the Media,” Coren rarely referred to this subject, instead offering his audience various vignettes and personal anecdotes, such as the story of “Rose,” a poor Polish Jewish woman who was pregnant and made the difficult journey of emigrating from Poland to England at the turn of the twentieth century. She was advised to abort her child by one of her peers, but vehemently refused to do so. Coren then informed his audience that “Rose” was in fact his great-grandmother. “Thank you, grandma. For life,” he said.
Coren repeatedly stressed that “being pro-life is a whole package” and must include a commitment to a variety of social justice issues such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment and racism. He expressed sadness over Ontario premier candidate Jim Flaherty, “a man who is ‘pro-life’ who talks about arresting the homeless.” Coren also expressed his disdain at being stereotyped as part of the Christian right.
“I refuse to be identified with the right. It is not a left or right issue—it can be argued that being pro-life is revolutionary.”
During the question and answer period following his lecture, Coren was asked whether he changed his stance on abortion in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.
“I couldn’t look a woman in the eye after she had been raped and say she has to give birth,” he said, putting forward a view many pro-lifers would disagree with. “I realize, however, that this is a logical inconsistency.���
“Being pro-life is about being reasonable,” he added. “It’s not all or nothing, it’s saving lives when we can.”
First year Arts and Science student Ashley Deregil, who says she is pro-life, noted that she “thought it was interesting and important to come here and support our points of view, whether we believe they are right or wrong.”
Delegates from the campus Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered group (LGBTOUT) were not as impressed.
“LGBTOUT would like to express its disappointment in both the St. Mike’s and U of T Students for Life associations, who are not accepting and loving of all people, regardless of sexual orientation.” said Mark Riczu, LGBTOUT’s political action coordinator.
“It’s unfortunate that the love espoused by Coren does not include LGBTQ people,” he said, noting this is the second time Students for Life have presented speakers he says are “notoriously homophobic/transphobic.”
Riczu pointed to a recent article in the Sun in which Coren characterizes individuals who identify as transsexual as “some very sick people whose deep mental illness deserves our compassion and care.”
President of the U of T Students for Life Caroline Hudson reacted favourably to Coren’s lecture.
“He was enthusiastic, eloquent and responded wonderfully to questions.” Hudson disagreed on Coren’s position on abortion in the case of rape and asserted that abortion under any circumstance is wrong.
“The question of rape easily detracts from the issue as abortion in cases of rape account for less than one per cent of all abortions, although we certainly don’t disagree with his sentiment,” she said.