Re: pro-life demonstrations at U of T 

I was pleased to read in a recent op-ed that U of T Students for Life’s display of abortion victim photography is seen now as “commonplace on campus.” That is our goal. We aim to make the victims of abortion visible to everyone, and to make the case to everyone that human rights are for all human beings. We don’t “chant” or “heckle” or use disrespectful language. We present the scientific fact, taught in U of T’s own curriculum (e.g. CSB328H), that fertilization is the creation of a new, individual human being (see ehd.org), and we make the ethical case through civil and respectful dialogue that human rights should start when the human being starts. We also volunteer weekly at a local charity to help people facing difficult pregnancies. Yes, pregnancy can involve incredibly difficult life circumstances. Is killing an innocent human being ever an ethical solution to difficult life circumstances?

Photos of abortion victims are shocking. Abortion decapitates, dismembers and disembowels an innocent human being. We show the photographic evidence of the injustice so we can end the killing, adopting the strategy of effective social reformers of the past, from the British abolitionists to the National Child Labour Committee to the civil rights movement. I’ve been reading Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains these past few weeks, about how the British abolitionists “plastered the country with slave ship diagrams” (p. 168) which left an “instantaneous impression of horror upon all who saw” them. (p. 156) The abolitionists realized “what a powerful weapon” (p. 155) they had because the visual evidence of the horrors of injustice was “unanswerable.” (p. 156) Is the same not true of the photos of abortion victims?

What answer shall our society give to the photos of children shredded to pieces by abortion? We show the photos because they are the strongest and most effective means we have to save children’s lives, and to spare women the trauma of abortion. As long as nearly 2,000 children are being killed by abortion every week in Canada, we will expose the inhumane reality of abortion every week on campus, until the photos are just records of the past.

— Blaise Alleyne, Education Coordinator for U of T Students for Life

 

Stifling debate and expression

I am writing in response to a recently published op-ed entitled “Graphic anti-abortion protests have no place on campus.” I felt it necessary to issue a response based on the values that an educational institution is supposed to uphold and embolden. I find this op-ed to be founded on arguments of illogicality and illiberalism.

I must start by saying that I do not agree with the position of the anti-abortion protesters nor do I agree with their methods.

However, this op-ed does not provide the reader an explicit solution to dealing with the possible harms, but instead it is marred by an attitude towards freedom of expression that looks to limit its scope to spare the feelings of some who feel distressed.

My encounter was one of civility, where these protesters politely talked with multiple students to exchange viewpoints and strive for a common ground. What I saw was exactly how people who fundamentally disagree should go about airing out their differences. In fact, a key point of the op-ed supports this.  A first-year student began chanting “pro-choice,” an exhibit of people utilizing their own expression to respectfully counter views they disagree with. That is how society should function.

Hearing and seeing offensive things is the price we pay for living in a free and open society. Unfortunately, this op-ed seems to believe that our freedoms also include the freedom not to be offended, distressed, or scared. Freedom of expression includes the ability to criticize, offend, and cause fear and thus anti-abortion protesters should be allowed to protest in whatever way they please.

Further, free speech includes the freedom to spread misinformation. The author is correct that these protesters can say things that bend the truth. However, that does not mean they have no place on campus. That means the onus is on everybody else to hold these people accountable by questioning their statements and finding out what is true.

The best tool to counter things that you disagree with is not banishment but debate. If we base what speech is considered “free” based on if it’s offensive, then no speech could ever be protected because offence is subjective. The author seems perfectly willing to offend those protesters by stating they have no place on campus and I can wholeheartedly say she should be completely allowed to do so, just as the anti-abortion protesters should.

The author is right to say that Doug Ford’s new free speech policy will embolden protesters. It will embolden all those who wish to speak their mind and have meaningful debate about a controversial issue. On this issue, seeing these images and hearing these ideas and countering them with opposing ideas is way to reach a common ground view. Censorship is the path to further polarization on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides.

I can offer multiple solutions to those who may feel threatened or distressed by the messages and methods used by these protesters. While the author merely advocates censorship, I would advise not looking at the images or just keep walking.

We must stop hoping and trying to get other people to change how they speak and express themselves just so it makes us feel better. Many people are against abortion and their goal is to stop the procedure from happening, so we need to accept that they are going to try their hardest to make that happen and if that is through fear, then so be it. The solution is offering an alternative viewpoint, one that people can more readily accept. Advocating for censoring these protesters is not liberalism or progressivism, it’s authoritarianism masquerading as justice.

— Nicholas Heinrich

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