Abortion debates spark controversy on campus

Brock Life-line, a pro-life club on campus, sparked controversy with their recent outreach campaign, which led to protests and social media criticism from some students.

The campaign included a booth where club members would provide brochures, talk to students and visually present information and images.

The club claims that the purpose of the campaign was to increase awareness, talk to students and inspire productive conversation. However, some students were concerned about other possible goals the club may have had beyond engaging in conversation, as well as some potentially negative impacts of the way that the club was communicating alternative perspectives.

One of the most consistent critiques of this campaign (and pro-life activism in general) is not so much the pro-life stance of the club or their perspective on abortion, but rather the arguably graphic way in which information has been presented.

Some students have argued this presentation could be harmful to sensitive students, especially those who have had or are considering abortions. The booth for this campaign contained physical models of fetuses, and some of the material they were handing out contained similar imagery, as well as comparisons of abortion to events such as slavery or the Holocaust. Some have seen these things as inappropriate in a way that could cause distress.

An image from Brock Life-line brochures

An image from Brock Life-line brochures

“Even if I may not agree with them, I can understand why they feel the way they do. I can try and see their perspective,” said Jayson Ribeiro, a third year Concurrent Education student with a major in Biology. “The problem I have is the way they go about it. It’s about shock value: the way they set up the table with plastic fetuses and use shocking imagery, it’s just a bit too far. I would be more willing to talk and listen to them if they didn’t use these scare tactics.”

Aside from student response to the images and models of fetuses involved in the campaign, there was also a group of active protesters who had very specific issues with the club and its campaign techniques. One of the most prominent concerns was the dissemination of information that protesters argue is misleading.

“They’re essentially promoting myths about women’s health care to make their point, and these myths are based on information that is contrary to medical opinion,” said Rose Davies, a Brock student and one of the protesters. “The information they have is propaganda. It’s not based on accepted scientific or medical opinion, and official sources contradict a lot of what they say. They’re exploiting people’s fears about health.”

One of the specific concerns that Davies had is that some of the pamphlets being handed out by the club claim that there is a link between abortion and cancer. One of the pamphlets states confidently that “it is a well established [sic] fact that abortion can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer,” and another says that “abortion has also been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.”

Davies’ argument that this information is contrary to medical opinion is supported by official medical sources that do contradict it. The American Cancer Society reports that “at this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.” The National Cancer Institute also reports that a comprehensive workshop they conducted in 2003 determined that “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”

The Canadian Cancer Society also reports that “the body of scientific evidence does not support an association between abortion and increased breast cancer risk.” All three of these reports directly contradict the information presented in the literature disseminated by Brock Life-line.

Images from Brock Life-line brochures

Images from Brock Life-line brochures

One of the reasons that the pamphlets may have this contrary information is because they may have referenced outdated or flawed studies. The National Cancer Institute reports that, while some studies may have seen a link, “most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results… since then, better-designed studies have been conducted.”

Davies expressed concern that a club is permitted to give out material on campus with information that goes against credible and accepted medical opinion. Furthermore, she also said that there is a problem with the fact that the club is ratified by the Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU), which means that they have the ability to get funding from the students’ union, despite the fact that they are spreading information of questionable validity and engaging in potentially harmful campaigns. Davies said that the protesters are advocating for better accountability for BUSU clubs.

“We want to improve BUSU’s oversight and have them take more responsibility for their clubs’ actions,” said Davies. “These clubs are eligible to receive student funding, and they need more oversight.”

In response to protester concerns, Brock Life-line president Alexandra Yakovleva said that she is concerned that protesters are focusing on what she thinks are issues that the club doesn’t particularly focus on, and that they don’t understand the goals and focus of the campaign. She said that, while some of the pamphlets contain medical and scientific claims about the effects of abortion on women, these claims are not the focus of the club’s work.

“We are mostly focused on the humanity of the pre-born child and discussing the rights and health of the pre-born,” said Yakovleva. “We do not focus exclusively on the repercussions of abortion on the pregnant woman. We always want to bring the discussion back to the pre-born child.”

Yakovleva said that the focus of the campaign was to start dialogue and talk with students about opinions and perspectives surrounding the humanity and rights of fetuses before birth. She also said they anted to raise awareness about Canadian abortion laws. She claimed that at no point did they want to target anyone, force opinions on anyone, or play into the fear tactics they have been accused of using. She said that they simply wanted to start some conversations and make sure that women knew about their options.


While some of their material may talk about cancer or alleged health impacts of abortion on women, Yakovleva argued that this information is not the focus of their work, and does not reflect the majority of what they want to do.

“We are simply here to talk and listen to students, not to enforce anything or target anyone. We were not targeting, we were simply standing and wanting to talk about different options,” said Yakovleva. “We do not want to suppress anyone, we are simply trying to promote a different way of thinking about life. The way we engage with students is not in a threatening way. Students can choose whether or not to talk to us, and they do not need to listen to us if they disagree.”

The major issues raised in this controversy include the spreading of information of questionable legitimacy by a student group on campus, the potential psychological impacts of this sort of information and the question of how much responsibility and oversight BUSU should be expected to have over clubs.

The roles, rights and responsibilities of a club like Brock Life-line, as well as general controversies surrounding human rights, reproductive rights and pro-life and pro-choice positions were also raised. The recent campaign and the resulting protests have the potential to impact how all of these factors work and possibly change at Brock in the future.

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2 thoughts on “Abortion debates spark controversy on campus

  1. FYI:

    There have been many publications on the negative health affects of abortion on women:

    http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barbara-kay-hard-truths-about-abortion. December 11, 2013

    Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women. By Angela Lanfranchi, Ian Gentles, Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy. Published by The DeVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, 2013

    History of induced abortion as a risk factor for preterm birth in European countries: results of the EUROPOP survey. Ancel, P.-Y. (2004), Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 19(3), 734–740.

    The effects of induced abortion on emotional experiences and relationships: A critical review of the literature, Bradshaw, Z., & Slade, P. (2003), Clinical Psychology Review, 23(7), 929–958.

    Breast cancer and abortion: collaborative reanalysis of data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 83 000 women with breast cancer from 16 countries. (2004). The Lancet, 363(9414), 1007–1016.

    Induced abortion as an independent risk factor for breast cancer: a comprehensive review and meta-analysis, Brind J, Chinchilli VM, Severs WB, Summy-Long J., J Epidemiol Community Health. 1996 Oct;50(5):481-96.

    Psychological Impact on Women of Miscarriage Versus Induced Abortion: A 2-Year Follow-up Study, Broen, A. N. (2004), Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(2), 265–271.CMA Policy on Induced abortion. (2007), 2.

    Induced Abortion and Increased Risk of Substance Abuse: A Review of the Evidence, Coleman, Priscilla K., Current Women’s Health Reviews, Volume 1, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 21-34(14).

    Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health, Fergusson, D. M., John Horwood, L., & Ridder, E. M. (2006), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(1), 16–24.

    Pregnancy-associated mortality after birth, spontaneous abortion, or induced abortion in Finland, Gissler, M., Berg, C., Bouvier-Colle, M., & Buekens, P. (2004), American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

    Previous induced abortions and the risk of very preterm delivery: results of the EPIPAGE study, Moreau C, Kaminski M, Ancel PY, Bouyer J, Escande B, Thiriez G, Boulot P, Fresson J, Arnaud C, Subtil D, Marpeau L, Rozé JC, Maillard F, Larroque B; EPIPAGE Group, BJOG. 2005 Apr;112(4):430-7.

    Abortion Four Times Deadlier Than Childbirth, The Post-Abortion Review, 8(2), April-June 2000. Copyright 2000, Elliot Institute.

    Long-term physical and psychological health consequences of induced abortion: review of the evidence, Thorp, J., Hartmann, K., & Shadigian, E. (2003), Obstet Gynecol Surv.

    Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995-2009, Coleman, P. K. (2011), The British Journal of Psychiatry : the Journal of Mental Science, 199(3), 180–186.

    Associations between abortion, mental disorders, and suicidal behaviour in a nationally representative sample, Mota, N. P., Burnett, M., & Sareen, J. (2010), Can J Psychiatry. 2010 Apr;55(4):239-47.

  2. Open Letter to Ms. Rose Davies (Brock University),
    You have been quoted as saying: “They’re essentially
    promoting myths about women’s health to make their
    point…”. Methinks ‘they’ refers to pro-life groups at
    Brock University (Ontario, Canada). One adverse risk
    of induced abortion claimed by pro-life groups is future
    higher risk of premature babies (under 37 weeks’ gestation).
    ‘Preemies’ have higher risk of Autism, Cerebral Palsy (CP),
    mental retardation & many other maladies. [I am a medical
    researcher with a main focus on preterm birth risk factors;
    URL: http://www.jpands.org/vol13no4/rooney.pdf .]
    In medical science the most conclusive evidence is supplied
    by a category of study termed SRMA (Systematic Review
    with Meta-Analysis). For the abortion-preemie risk there
    are a grand total of four (4) 21st century SRMAs.[1-4] All 4 of
    the SRMAs reported that prior induced abortions significantly
    raise future risk of preterm birth. A copy of the Dr. Prakesh
    Shah (U. Toronto) SRMA abstract-results section is in the
    Appendix to this email. Ms. Rose Davies, you may not
    believe that there are zero SRMAs reporting that prior
    induced abortions do NOT raise premature delivery risk.
    I hereby offer a reward of $2,000 to the first person who
    can correctly cite a 21st century SRMA (published before
    1 January 2016) that considered the preterm birth risk of
    prior induced abortions and did NOT find that prior induced
    abortions raise future risk of premature delivery. Please feel
    free to alert ‘pro-choice’ medical professionals to this $2,000
    risk free challenge. For example, you could alert Dr. David
    Grimes (University of North Carolina) to this challenge.
    Brent Rooney (MSc)
    Research Director, Reduce Preterm Risk Coalition
    3456 Dunbar St. (Suite 146)
    Vancouver, B.C. V6S 2C2
    email: fullterm40@gmail.com
    web: http://www.jpands.org/vol13no4/rooney.pdf
    1 Shah PS, Zao J. Induced termination of pregnancy and low
    birthweight and preterm birth: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
    British J Obstetrics Gynaecology 2009;116:1425-1442. [URL:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02278.x/pdf ]
    2 Swingle HM, Colaizy TT, Zimmerman MB, et al Abortion and the
    risk of subsequent preterm birth: a systematic review and meta-
    analysis. J Reprod Med 2009;54:95-108. [ URL:
    http://johnrodgerssmith.com/MedicalObservations/Swingle/JRM%20Swingle%20paper%202009.pdf ]
    3 Lemmers M, Vershoor MA, Hooker AB, Opmeer BC, Limpens J,
    Huirne JA, Ankum WM, Mol BW. Dilation and curettage increase
    the risk of preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies. A systematic
    review and meta-analysis. Human Reprod. Advanced Access
    2015;0(0):1-12 Abstract URL:
    4 Saccone G, Perriera L, Berghella V. Prior uterine perforation of
    pregnancy as independent risk factor for preterm birth: a systematic
    review and meta-analysis. Amer J Obstetrics Gynecology 29 December
    2015 [Epub ahead of print]
    Appendix: Abstract-results section of the 2009 Dr. Prakesh
    Shah ‘abortion-preemie’ Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis:
    “Main results Thirty-seven studies of low-moderate risk of
    bias were included. A history of one I-TOP [Induced-Termination
    Of Pregnancy] was associated with increased unadjusted odds of
    LBW (OR 1.35, 95% CI 1.20-1.52) and PT (OR 1.36, 95%
    CI 1.24-1.50), but not SGA (OR 0.87, 95% CI 0.69-1.09). A
    history of more than one I-TOP was associated with LBW (OR 1.72,
    95% CI 1.45-2.04) and PT (OR 1.93, 95% CI 1.28-2.71).
    Meta-analysis of adjusted risk estimates confirmed these
    findings.” [2009 Dr. Prakesh Shah Systematic Review and
    Meta-Analysis URL:
    http://www.bjog.org/details/journalArticle/345727/Induced_termination_of_pregnancy_and_low_birthweight_and_preterm_birth_a_systema.html ]
    End of Results section of the Oct. 2009 Dr. Prakesh Shah SRMA
    CI – Confidence Interval
    LBW – Low Birth Weight (under 2,500 grams)
    PT – Pre-Term birth
    SGA – Small for Gestational Age
    Plain English ‘translation’ of the Dr. Prakesh Shah Oct. 2009
    SRMA (Systematic Review & Meta-Analysis)Abstract Results
    1 One prior IA (Induced Abortion) multiplies ‘preemie’ risk
    by 1.36 (ie. 36% higher relative odds) AND the authors were at
    least 95% confident of increased ‘preemie’ risk.
    2 More than one prior IA almost doubles ‘preemie’ risk (1.93
    times the odds of a preemie delivery by women with zero
    prior IAs
    3 Dr. Shah & Dr. Zao also found that prior induced abortions increase low birth weight (LBW) risk.

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