Yesterday, a pro-life booth in the UCC atrium was flanked by pro-choice demonstrators.
One group — Western Lifeline, which has risen to prominence with controversial pro-life demonstrations — held its usual booth in the atrium, featuring blown-up medical images of fetuses. Another group of around six students held simple white and pink signs saying, “unapologetically pro-choice” and “free hugs." While Lifeline stood in front of the University Community Centre doors, the other students stood a few feet to their left and right.
Joseph Shlayen, a third-year actuarial sciences student, lead the group with pink signs. They were not explicitly pro-choice and instead wanted to promote positivity.
According to Shlayen, students tend to feel uncomfortable with Lifeline’s displays. The group’s goal was not to inhibit the efforts of the club’s display, but instead to make people feel better about being on campus.
Shlayen said their reception was very positive: while some people hung around to pet their dog, Shlayen held up the “free hugs” sign and was actively encouraging students to receive hugs.
“A lot of people like free hugs, apparently,” said Shlayen.
To Lifeline’s left was a group with white signs, who advocated a pro-choice approach.
Two students, one of whom preferred to remain anonymous, explained that they were there to support the people’s autonomy. Both students stated that, as sexual assault survivors themselves, they wanted to advocate for the choices they had to make at one point.
“Whenever I see images like this, it just reminds me of my decision I made, and I don’t think I should feel guilty about my choice,” the student, Brittney*, explained.
At Lifeline’s display, fourth-year philosophy student and president of the Western Lifeline club, Rashad Rehman, was working the booth along with other members of the club.
He said the club was only there to share information and spread its message. He also stated that they were grateful to the University Students’ Council for allowing freedom of expression on Western University's campus.
Lifeline is ratified within the USC’s clubs system, which became a campaign issue in last year’s elections. Current USC president Mitchell Pratt and vice-president Danny Chang said they would not de-ratify the club, whereas their opponent, Ocean Enbar, said he would consider it.
And last year, Lifeline demonstrated near the Wellness Education Centre in the UCC basement, where students can receive information about reproductive choices, drawing sharper criticism than usual.
Rehman said he accompanied the club to advocate their belief that abortion “is always a human rights violation.”
The groups of protesters seemed to remain respectful, said Rehman. At one point during the day, the protesters were blocking view of the club’s display and were asked to move. He said the issue was resolved very quickly.
“I said ‘Thank you so much for moving, I really appreciate it,’ and then we hugged it out,” he said.
He added that the response from students passing through the UCC was both positive and negative. He acknowledged it is a controversial issue, so they expected mixed emotions in return.
The groups of protesters remained in front of the entrance until Lifeline took down their display.
Lifeline members mentioned their view was that the subject had two sides and that everyone should have a chance to share their beliefs.
“We’re not trying as a club to deny anyone’s freedom of speech; we just want the same in return,” Rehman said.
*Full name has been redacted for privacy.