Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pro-choice v pro-life in Canadian schools and universities

By Kate Hammer, Globe and Mail, March 15, 2011
Thunder Bay, ON:The anti-abortion message her schoolmates wore inspired Alexandria Szeglet to don her opinion too. Instead of the word “life” written along strips of red tape, the 15-year-old Thunder Bay resident wore the word “choice” written on strips of green tape stuck to her Catholic high school uniform.
She was minutes into her first-period drama class last Thursday at St. Patrick High School when she was called to the office and sent home.

Alexandria left, but the soft-spoken Grade 10 student had started a movement: In a show of solidarity, 24 of her peers followed suit, adhering green tape to their uniforms. Four of them were also sent home, some for a two-day suspension.
The suspensions, and the faith-fuelled debate behind them, are the latest evidence of growing friction between religion and public education in Canada.
Catholic schools are struggling to bridge a growing divide between popular opinion and church doctrine, and the strain is showing: A Catholic school board near Toronto won international notoriety in January after it banned gay-straight alliances, and a bedroom community near Edmonton, where Catholic education is the only public option, is currently embroiled in a battle for residents’ right to a doctrine-free education.
And this from Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, March 7, 2011
Ottawa:The anti-abortion club at Carleton University is suing the school for $225,000 after five students were arrested last fall for attempting to set up a controversial display.

The Ottawa students were handcuffed, taken to a police van and charged with trespassing for trying to set up a graphic photo exhibit.
The exhibit, called the Genocide Awareness Project, uses images of aborted fetuses to compare abortion to various kinds of genocide.

The statement of claim issued by the group's lawyer says the university discriminated against Carleton Lifeline and violated the students' freedom of expression.
The statement says other clubs which displayed controversial images were not arrested or charged with trespassing.
Jason MacDonald, a university spokesperson, has referred to the exhibit as “offensive” and said the students were given the chance to display it at another part of campus.
These are clear signs that the schools and universities have become the theatre for this battle of religious ideology.
Clearly, neither side is going to change the minds of its opponents; clearly, the students are engaged in an deep and divisive struggle over a matter that cannot be reduced to a black/white "yet"/"no" decision without ignoring many complex and conscience-challenging twists and turns.
In a perfect world, no one wants to see a fetus aborted.
However, we do not live in a perfect world. And:
  • if my spouse or daughter were raped, I would want her to have the option of a therapeutic abortion so that she would not have to raise the child of that tragedy
  • if the life of my spouse were in danger, while carrying a child, again, I would want her to have the option of a therapeutic abortion
  • and if, in the unwanted and unlikely event that a child were conceived in a situation in which the mental health of the woman carrying the child were in jeopardy, it seems only compassionate to have the option available to such a woman
This religiously-based rigidity, right/wrong, dichotomy may be fine in an abstract theological discussion, or even a reflective paper on ethics, where the individuals are engaging in some form of "spiritual formation" where the principles are being forged and distilled. However, it is this very same rigidity of right/wrong that refuses to address the complexities, even those faced by the Jesus of the Gospels. Befriending the outcasts, loving your neighbour, spending time with those considered lower than the low....these are not indications of a spirit or an ethic that reduces situations to such simplicities. In fact, even hanging on the Cross, it is written that he is reported to have uttered, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
When any faith thinks it can decree the interiority of the mind of God, on any issue, and then proceeds to draw a line between the acceptance of those who follow that decree and rejection of those who do not follow that decree, in their faith journey, that faith has, it seems reasonable to contend, stumbled over the even deeper principle of forgiveness, and refused its availability, thereby playing God. And that is one sin for which the church seems unwilling to atone.
It is not only that the pro-choice position is the only one available to those who are truly pro-life, and that such a position is "popular"; it also seems both dangerous and spiritually limiting to define, for children, the limits of God's limitless love for all humans. Unless, of course, absolute control of the minds, hearts and consciences of those children is the ultimate goal.

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