On Tuesday night, University of Toronto Students for Life (UTSFL) presented a lecture entitled “Abortion is Genocide” at Brennan Hall in St. Michael’s College. Delivered by Stephanie Gray, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), the talk made the controversial assertion that abortion is similar to the past century’s worst crimes against humanity, a claim that is made by the CBR’s Genocide Awareness Program (GAP). Gray spoke, showed a short film, and fielded questions from a handful of solemn-faced spectators.

Although the event was well-publicized and a roughly 200-capacity room had been booked in the Catholic college, the lecture was sparsely attended. A mostly pro-choice audience came to hear the talk, and apparently to make their dissent known. Gray endured a barrage of questions from a group of mainly young, female audience members after the talk was over, which quite probably would have lasted as long as the talk itself if UTSFL hadn’t ended the event.

GAP, which has been called “a traveling anti-abortion road show,” sets up displays in busy areas of campus. The displays, which feature large (14- by 16-foot) signs depicting graphic images of genocide victims, including scenes from Rwanda, the Holocaust, the Bosnian genocide, and KKK lynchings. Their website features these same images directly beside those of aborted and dismembered fetuses.

The message of these displays is clear: abortion is an atrocity on a par with the most horrifying slaughters of the 20th century. Gray, a graduate of the University of British Columbia in political science, argued that what made the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust wrong is that “their victims were human beings, and as human beings, they had a right to life.”

“Although Canada would correctly condemn these acts, it is currently committing an atrocity of its own: abortion,” she said.

Gray used the idea of “personhood” as something that applies to and has equal value for everyone, which imparts dignity and inviolability. She argued that victims of persecution and genocide were put in groups that were deemed to be “unworthy of life” or “subhuman,” because they did not have the status of “human beings” in the eyes of their murderers. Fetuses, she said, are denied their right to personhood in much the same way by the defenders and practitioners of abortion.

Anticipating the objection that abortion does not fall under the 1948 definition of genocide as the destruction of a national, ethnic, religious, or racial group, Gray pointed out that the Cambodian genocide did not fit under that rubric, and thus that the definition of genocide is one that must evolve. (The Khmer Rouge killed Cambodians based on their class, where they lived, and their level of education).

In attendance were students Alexandra Mandela and Derek Green, who are in the process of founding a pro-choice student group on campus, and were armed with posters and pamphlets. The pro-choice contingent there was far more vocal than those who were anti-abortion. A priest in the audience, Father Guy Trudel, said that he was not there to support the GAP, but “just to see what happens.”

A brief film was shown featuring footage of an late-term fetus in utero, followed by dismembered fetuses being held and manipulated by unidentified gloved hands, set to instrumental music. “There are horrors which cannot be put into words, and can only be expressed through images,” Gray said.