On Nov. 6, pro-choice protestors disrupted a session hosted by McMaster Lifeline, a pro-life club on campus.
The talk, titled “Abortion: Reproductive or Human Rights?” invited Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform representative Maaike Rosendal to present a scientific case for the pro-life perspective. However, before the presentation began, pro-choice protestors interrupted the session with various prepared dialogues, ranging from comments on abortion in animals to unrelated facts.
Rafaella Shammas, president of McMaster Lifeline, expressed her disappointment in a statement to The Silhouette.
“The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about the humanity of the pre-born and the inhumane nature of abortion… while we expected some opposition at the presentation, we were disappointed that many of those who call themselves pro-choice seemed to have no problem with taking the choices of others away,” she said.
Protestors also brought cowbells and harassed attendees with silly string, many of whom were pro-choice advocates. Campus police initially arrived half an hour after the event start time, but left after being ignored by the protestors. Although several protestors dispersed before the police returned, the most disruptive individuals were escorted out around an hour after the presentation had been scheduled to begin.
“We are certainly aware that the issues we bring to light on campus are often sensitive and even controversial, but we believe that a university, the so-called marketplace of ideas, is where we ought to be able to engage each other on important topics such as abortion,” Shammas said.
Hannah Zou, a third-year Health Sciences student and pro-choice supporter, attended the event after having had previous discussions with Shammas at their table in the Student Centre.
“They really wanted to see the other side without being attacked, and still have their point of view listened to,” said Zou.
“At first, there was a full room of people, and I thought, ‘oh gosh, I’m going to be overwhelmed by all these pro-life people,’ but there were a lot of protesters there,” she continued. “There was a [pro-choice] poster next to me, and I thought, ‘hey, people are actually open to come to these presentations and see what the other side is about, and I was really proud of that.”
As a pro-choice supporter, Zou expressed her frustration with the protestors when she was trying to listen.
“It kind of pissed me off,” she said. “We’re trying to have a discussion, because that’s how you solve problems; what they did, I don’t think it did anything whatsoever for their cause.”
The presentation was eventually able to continue, and both Zou and Shammas said it was a respectful discussion among the remaining audience members. However, as the second of two protests that day, the question remains as to what students are and aren’t allowed to do.
Cathy O’Donnell, Senior Manager and Staff Sergeant with McMaster Security Services, explained the protocol.
“Our approach is always to have free speech, for both sides. But we also want people to be able to speak their own opinions without being interrupted,” she said.
“[When] it’s disruptive to the other group or disrespectful to the other group, then we really need to start looking at students’ rights and conduct for community living, to make sure we can all live in the same area.”