McMaster Lifeline club de-ratified after student petition receives over 3000 signatures 

C/O Silhouette Archives

McMaster Lifeline has been an active and often controversial anti-abortion group on campus, over the past few years. Recently, their Instagram account began to circulate widely on social media and prompted criticisms from students.

Upon learning about McMaster Lifeline and their Instagram page, McMaster student Adriana Hutchins started a petition for the de-ratification of McMaster Lifeline.

“I made sure to include in the petition statement that we are not against free speech by any means, but hateful messages have no place on campus,” said Hutchins.

“I made sure to include in the petition statement that we are not against free speech by any means, but hateful messages have no place on campus.”

Adriana Hutchins

Hutchins wrote in the petition description that Lifeline is spreading propaganda and misinformation about reproductive rights. Section 5.1.1.3.2. of the MSU clubs operating policy includes spreading false information as a class A offence, where an action interferes with the abilities of individuals to enjoy the McMaster community.

“5.1.1.3.2. Dissemination of false information with the intent to mislead the general public.”

The McMaster Lifeline Instagram page currently contains a post that reads: “abortion is never medically necessary.” According to the website for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “there are situations where pregnancy termination in the form of an abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health or save their life.”

Hutchins’ petition gained a lot of student attention.

“[There] was an overwhelmingly good response [to the petition] . . . Within the first 24 hours, [there were] over 1600 signatures,” said Hutchins.

As of publication, the petition has over 3000 signatures. Along with signing Hutchins’ petition, many students also reached out to the MSU Clubs Department directly with their concerns. 

As of publication, the petition has over 3000 signatures.

“The content shared led the Clubs Department to believe that Lifeline had possibly violated Clubs’ policy,” said MSU Vice-President (Finance) Jessica Anderson in an email to The Silhouette. The students’ emails led to a meeting of the Clubs Advisory council.

Shelby Seymour of SRA Social Sciences and a member of CAC, noted that Lifeline has previously violated club policies and faced consequences as a result. 

Seymour explained that in the 2019-2020 school year, Lifeline had tabling events on campus without getting MSU approval. This violation of policy placed them on probation.

Under section 4.1.2. of clubs operating policy, probationary clubs are required to notify the club’s administrator about all events. However, according to Seymour, Lifeline was holding events without the permission of the club’s administrator. These events were promoted on their Instagram.

Seymour stressed that the decision to recommend Lifeline for de-ratification was entirely on the basis of policy violations.

“We need[ed] to base this [decision] off of policy and not our own political and moral opinions . . . They violated their probation and they were also spreading misinformation,” said Seymour.

“They violated their probation and they were also spreading misinformation.”

Shelby Seymour

Anderson was able to shed more light as to why specifically the CAC de-ratified the club.

“Ultimately, CAC found Lifeline in violation of several policies, including the dissemination of false information with intent to mislead the general public, as well as numerous instances in which the group failed to comply with McMaster University Risk Management policy,” said Anderson.

Failure to comply with the McMaster University risk management policy is a class C offence. Under the clubs operating policy, class C offences will always result in a punitive sanction.

“Ultimately, CAC found Lifeline in violation of several policies, including the dissemination of false information with intent to mislead the general public, as well as numerous instances in which the group failed to comply with McMaster University Risk Management policy.”

Jessica Anderson

On March 21, the SRA held a meeting in which they formally de-ratified McMaster Lifeline, upon the recommendation of the CAC. Disbandment, or de-ratification, is under sections 5.4.2 and 5.4.2.1. of clubs policy. 

“5.4.2.1. Disbandment: If, in the opinion of the CAC, a Club is either incapable of or unwilling to correct its behaviour and/or the interests of the MSU and student body would be best served by the disbandment of a Club, the Clubs Administrator has the right to recommend that the SRA rescind the MSU’s recognition of the Club.”

The sanction will remain in effect for at least one full calendar year. For the club to be re-ratified, McMaster Lifeline must present sufficient evidence that they have changed.

Update:

According to numerous MSU documents, Lifeline has violated multiple Clubs policies on multiple occasions in the 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. However, the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 policy violations were only recently exposed.

In 2018-2019, Lifeline hosted eight tabling events without submitting the necessary documentation and therefore without approval. At the time, failure to abide by MSU or McMaster policy was a Class B offence rather than Class C.

“Since McMaster Lifeline has submitted all their re-ratification documents in a timely manner and are only in violation of the lack of event forms for their tabling, the Clubs Department concluded that a probationary period would be a more appropriate course of action,” wrote Aditi Sharma and Maddison Hampel in the Lifeline Probation Letter. This letter was dated Sept. 24, 2019.

“The club has been made aware of their infractions, and the concerns regarding their tabling behaviour. Because of the EOHSS approval infractions, it is the Clubs department’s recommendation that this club be ratified contingent on them being on a close-watch probationary period for the 2019-2020 year. Any infraction during this period may warrant the club being de-ratified,” wrote Sharma in the clubs ratification memo.

Their probation also required that the Clubs Administrator be made aware of the time and place of all club tables, events and executive meetings at least two weeks prior to the event via email. The SRA ratified Lifeline and their probation in July 2019.

Yet, despite the close-watch probationary period, Lifeline managed to run at least two unapproved events during the 2019-2020 probation year undetected until March 2021. As a result, Lifeline was ratified for the 2020-2021 school year without incident.

The current Clubs Administrator Jenna Courage sent a memo to the Clubs Advisory Council on March 20, 2021 to recommend that CAC recommend the SRA immediately de-ratify Lifeline due to a number of policy violations from their probationary year in 2019-2020 and this year.

Courage identified that Lifeline did not submit any events through the McMaster Student Events Management Portal after Feb. 28, 2020. However, Lifeline was found to have hosted events on March 4, March 6 and May 15, 2020, as well as on March 4 and March 18, 2021.

On March 21, 2021 Seymour and the rest of CAC submitted a letter to the SRA with the evidence and description of the violations. According to the letter, CAC voted unanimously to immediately de-ratify Lifeline after discussion of their policy violations. The SRA officially de-ratified Lifeline that day.

“While we acknowledge concerns brought forth from the student population regarding the content of McMaster Lifeline’s, the CAC’s opinion on their Clubs Status is solely related to violations of MSU and McMaster University Policies,” wrote CAC in the letter to the SRA.

Both Courage and CAC’s letters included the appeal procedures. The disbandment can be appealed to the Clubs Advisory Board. “A member of the club’s proposed Executive shall notify the Clubs Administrator of their intent to appeal within one (1) week of sanctions,” per section 5.7.1 of the Clubs Status policy.

Lifeline has not responded to our question on if they intend to appeal.

One of their offences was spreading false information to mislead the public. Abortions are covered by provincial and territorial health insurance plans through the Canada Health Act, which requires medically necessary procedures are publicly insured. All provinces and territories have designated abortions as essential services throughout the pandemic.

In an interview with The Silhouette, Elizabeth* shared her experience with a medically necessary abortion. Last year, Elizabeth had excessive pain and bleeding which her doctor initially thought might be due to her intrauterine device being out of place. After typical medical tests, her doctor discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant and sent her to urgent care for an ultrasound.

IUDs are a highly effective form of contraception, with a failure rate of less than one out of 100 users in the first year of insertion. In the case of pregnancy, a doctor will advise that the IUD be removed as it can cause preterm birth or miscarriage.

At the urgent care centre, they found that Elizabeth had a hemorrhaging cyst and sent her to the McMaster Women’s Clinic to speak with a gynecologist. The gynecologist thought that the pain and the bleeding were primarily from the hemorrhaging cyst, in addition to the uterine pregnancy and the IUD. The gynecologist suggested that Elizabeth check back in three days because it was possible that her body was taking care of the cyst on its own.

“That was terrifying. The thought of just sitting at home and knowing that I had no idea or control of what was happening to my body, that could potentially, it could kill me. It could change my entire future and I just would have to sit in that anxiety for three days,” said Elizabeth.

Instead of the waiting option, the gynecologist proposed an exploratory surgery. Elizabeth explained how, while at the urgent care centre, she instinctively knew something was wrong and thought it may be an ectopic pregnancy. She opted for the exploratory surgery and described being lucky because the McMaster Children’s Hospital surgery waiting rooms are decorated with stickers and moons. “Adorable,” she said.

When Elizabeth woke up from the surgery, the doctors told her that they found both a cyst and an ectopic pregnancy growing on her fallopian tube.

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg attaches to someplace other than the uterus and are life-threatening if left untreated. The embryo is nonviable and cannot be saved or turned into a uterine pregnancy. If the egg continues to grow in the fallopian tube, or anywhere outside the uterus, it could cause serious damage and heavy bleeding that could be deadly. Further, damage to the reproductive organs could cause problems getting pregnant in the future.

For Elizabeth, the surgeons performed a medically necessary abortion and had to remove the fallopian tube.

“The whole situation was almost like a dream because it had kind of felt like my entire existence had stopped in 18 hours and resumed again but flipped on its head,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth said she had a lot of support from her family and partner… “When I look at the messages that Lifeline has put out I can’t help but think about people who have been in a situation like mine who did their best to prevent it from happening — it was not my fault it wouldn’t be their fault — and they didn’t have any other option than to get surgery and have the fallopian tube, including the embryo removed,” said Elizabeth.

“I personally am someone who is very pro-choice, I believe that everybody should have the right to decide what they want to do with their body but, I can imagine for someone that doesn’t feel the same way, or at least doesn’t feel that way for themselves and wouldn’t choose to have an abortion themselves. If they see a message like the one that Lifeline has put out saying that “abortion is never medically necessary”, that could cause serious, serious harm for that person who might already be struggling with that experience of medical trauma and may now have to think to themselves, “So, I had a choice in this? If it wasn’t necessary then I just did this because I wanted to, this is somehow my fault.” It can really end up being harmful,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth added that Lifeline’s messaging also teaches people how to react to situations like hers.

*Name was changed to preserve identity

This article was updated April 13, 2021

Correction: April 13, 2021

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect quote that Lifeline was on probation in 2020-2021. They were on probation in 2019-2020.

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