Symposium teaches students to make a compelling case for the pro-life position

TORONTO—Canada's pro-life university students enjoyed a crash course in right-to-life “persuasion” during the annual National Campus Life Network (NCLN) symposium Jan. 8-10 in Toronto.

To prepare student pro-lifers to respond to the many distortions and rationalizations used to justify abortion, NCLN officials invited noted U.S. pro-life educator Scott Klusendorf to lead this year's symposium. Klusendorf, director of bioethics for the Los Angeles-based Stand to Reason organization, has quickly gained a reputation as a leading pro-life authority.

Klusendorf believes the pro-life movement is in dire need of more apologists who can articulate pro-life objectives in a confident, thorough manner. Too often, he said, pro-life workers fall victim to the rhetorical and emotion-based traps designed by pro-abortion supporters to hide their true intentions and make the killing of the unborn more palatable.

He is especially eager to address student pro-lifers as the future leaders of the movement. He challenged students to make a radical commitment to pro-life work to overcome the tremendous head start enjoyed by those promoting the abortion-contraception mentality.

“Let's reinvent the pro-life movement in Canada (and in the United States) with people who can bring a well-reasoned argument to the public square,” he said.

Klusendorf's presentation, “Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion,” is a vigorous defense of traditional right-to-life ideals. He makes use of a 280-page manual to shed light on such areas as pro-abortion rhetoric, exposing pro-abortion distortions, and the difficulties faced by pro-life people in bringing their message to a mass audience. Part of the problem, he said, stems from a “postmodern culture” that prefers stories and pictures to facts.

In his research, Klusendorf has uncovered a number of articles and quotations from pro-abortion supporters which confirm many of the claims long held by pro-lifers. His discussion of fetal pain and the abortion-breast cancer link, for example, cites articles from neutral and pro-choice sources affirming pro-life claims.

Klusendorf told students that any argument favoring abortion can be overcome by a consistent appeal to the humanity of the unborn child. “The answer to the question, ‘what is it that is being aborted’ trumps every other issue in this debate,” he said. “Abortion isn't about economic hardship, a woman's right to privacy, or forcing morality on others. It all boils down to the one central issue.”

Throughout the symposium, Klusendorf offered students a number of formulas and debating techniques designed to help them respond to pro-choice arguments. He called on young pro-lifers to do their homework prior to engaging in any public debate with a pro-abortion supporter.

“The public is confusing the complexity of the right-to-life issue,” Klusendorf told his student audience. “Abortion is not a complex issue, especially if we keep in mind that it's a human being that is threatened by abortion, and not some blob of tissue.”

More than 50 of the country's university-based pro-life workers converged at St. Augustine's Seminary to take in Klusendorf's presentation. Representatives from universities in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island participated in this year's symposium.

The 1999 NCLN symposium also featured an address by University of Toronto professor Janine Langan on “the Christian approach to pro-life activity.” The symposium opened with a workshop led by British Columbia students on starting and maintaining a university pro-life club.

The Klusendorf “persuasion” presentation was in keeping with NCLN's objective of acting as an information exchange and support organization for Canada's pro-life university students. The network now represents 17 post-secondary institutions in Canada, with more than 70 individual members.

NCLN is part of a growing network of students working to spread the word about right-to-life on universities and colleges in North America. Many veteran pro-life activists in the United States and Canada are enthusiastic about the dedication and energy of today's student pro-lifers.

Students attending this year's symposium were highly impressed with Klusendorf's presentation and his challenge to the next generation.

Theresa Picard, 20, a nursing student at the University of Western Ontario (London), is president of the undergraduate students’ pro-life club. She said Klusendorf's information is extremely useful in helping establish a pro-life ethic in a “values-neutral” university environment.

“I'm hoping to back to my local (pro-life) group with practical ways to present the right-to-life view on campus and continue making it an issue,” Picard said.

Meanwhile, Amrita Moore, head of the pro-life group at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, British Columbia, said the information disseminated during the symposium would benefit any pro-life work.

“This symposium helped me understand that all of the basic pro-choice arguments can be shot down with a straightforward appeal to fact and reason,” said Moore, a second-year psychology major. “I think a simple reliance on fact and the truth of our position can inspire more students to get involved in local pro-life groups.”

Shendah O‘Neill, an education student at the University of Toronto, is coordinating director of the National Campus Life Network. In an interview with the Register, O‘Neill said Klusendorf's invitation to speak at this year's symposium represents a change for the organization. Previous conferences featured a wider variety of speakers and several workshop activities. This year, however, the NCLN decided that Klusendorf's information-packed approach would be more effective with a student audience.

“We thought it more beneficial to bring all our representatives together to hear Scott and take advantage of his knowledge in this sensitive area,” O‘Neill said. “It's our hope that our members will take the ideas and information offered by Scott during the symposium and share it with their peers back on their individual campuses.”

O‘Neill, who became coordinating director last summer, says students can become effective pro-life leaders through continuing education and by staying abreast of the latest issues in the right-to-life debate.

O‘Neill revealed that the NCLN is now considering a plan to change its mission statement to read, “the National Campus Life Network is a Canadian organization that assists in the formation, collaboration, and overall effectiveness of campus pro-life groups.”

The network is also considering changes to its organization structure which will increase its financial health and add a degree permanence and stability to the organization. These changes include a beefed-up executive and the maintenance of an “adult anchor board” consisting of former students who are well-versed in pro-life work in North America.

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto.