Pro-life students charge on despite vandalism

Students for Life gained RSO status last fall.

The abortion debate in America can become hostile and nasty, a fact that a new pro-life advocacy and service RSO learned firsthand. On Monday night, many of UChicago Students for Life’s flyers, advertising their Thursday night meeting, were destroyed or vandalized.

One of several advertisements read, “What’s the difference between a baby and a fetus? Let’s talk about it.” Another said “Pro-life ≠ anti-women. More women consider themselves pro-life than pro-choice.”

According to second-year Jack Schmerold, the flyers’ creator and Students for Life board member, he rushed to take down this second flyer as soon as he became aware that it was incorrectly cited, but found that many had been torn down, ripped apart, or written on.

“I haven’t experienced too much confrontation or hatefulness with people [on campus],” Schmerold said the night before the signs were torn down.

After Thursday night’s meeting, the board tried to make sense of the backlash.

“There are some ideas that people are more comfortable talking about and are tolerant of and some that aren’t. Ours seems like one of the ones that aren’t,” said second-year board member Cait Duggan.

Initiating a more open and prevalent conversation about abortion is one of the main goals of UChicago Students for Life, according to co-founder and third-year Lucia Bower. Before the flyers were torn down, she said that the biggest frustration of holding a pro-life view on campus is the perceived taboo against speaking openly about the controversial topic. “We [the student body] don’t talk about it; we don’t discuss it. And when it is discussed, it’s always hateful, either which way, attacking the other person.”

First-year and member Dakota Bowman had the same impression when he came to campus. “It’s definitely not spoken about; it never comes up. I feel people don’t talk about it because everyone generally assumes everyone else has the pro-choice view.”

UChicago Students for Life is strictly non-partisan and non-religious, which its board believes allows it to engage with more of the student body. Its dozen or so members come from across the country and across the political and religious spectrum, though there are slightly more women than men active in the group.

Officially, the group gained RSO status in the fall of 2012, but it traces its origins to a pro-life student organization that was active and impactful in the early 2000s. That organization, composed mostly of graduate students and involved with a variety of issues including euthanasia and the death penalty, lost its momentum after its leadership graduated.

Last year, the baton was passed to Bower and third-year Jack Nuelle, when a graduate student approached them about restarting the group, according to Nuelle. He and Bower decided to limit the group’s focus to abortion, due to its relevance to college students.

“The vast majority of abortions are being performed for college-aged women,” Nuelle said.

In addition to initiating a conversation about the issue, Students for Life is also committed to local service work and finding ways to support pregnant women on campus. Most of Thursday night’s meeting was spent brainstorming logistics for volunteering at and fundraising for South Side pregnancy centers and helping young mothers stay in school.

“One of our long-term goals is to see what the University’s policies are towards women who are pregnant and want to keep their children; if there are any financial or housing accommodations, we want to find out if they do exist or how we can help create them.”


  • JF

    Yeah, sorry, but posting flyers that say things like “Pro-life ≠ anti-women” is NOT the way to start a respectful, productive discussion about abortion rights.

    I’m not surprised they got destroyed, and while I’m totally anti-vandalism and believe that this conversation SHOULD be had, provocative, extreme statements like that are nothing but inflammatory and fruitless.

    • PT

      “Extreme statement”? I fail to see anything extreme about it. Rather, it seems like quite a benign statement. All I seem to interpret of it is “let’s get terminology straight; the pro-life standpoint is not driven by, or synonymous with, a negative outlook towards women”. Although I consider myself on the progressive side, nothing hateful or directed is apparent to this reader.

      If the line quoted by the above commenter is considered extreme, or personally offensive to people, then I am rather concerned over the mindset of the student body.

  • David J

    JF, I’m pro-choice but I don’t find that statement to be extreme or inflammatory. It’s a common belief that people hold about pro-life advocates. Apparently they’re trying to dispel that idea, and I’d be interested in hearing their side of the story.

    If a large number of people called me anti-women or some other indication of misogyny, racism, bigotry, etc. due to some belief I held, I would probably want to address that, too.

  • Zane Burton

    The “vast majority” of abortions are not preformed for college-aged women. It’s around 40%. A majority is more than 50%, A vast majority would have to be at least 2/3rds…

    • KO

      I think the person probably meant that if you look at the spread, the number of abortions by college-aged women is probably starkly the highest compared to any other 6-year span. You’re right that it’s technically incorrect to say that the vast majority if it’s only 45%, but I think the point it gets across is that it affects that age of women *vastly more* or *vastly more frequently* than any other age group

      • EK

        A word like “plurality” might have been more appropriate in this instance, because it is commonly understood to describe a category which has the most members, but less than half of the whole (i.e., if we create categories corresponding to disjoint age groups and classify women who have received abortions into them, it is true that the category of college-aged women has the most members, but it also less than 50% of the total number of women who have received abortions).

  • Cait D

    Our poster campaign is meant to bring about fruitful discussion of the abortion issue on this campus since we know that it does affect the student body. We want to dispel misconceptions about pro-lifers and get people thinking about why being pro-life is not anti-woman. It might be a stance that few people adopt, and in that sense it might sound provocative, but we are trying to stir up conversation by giving voice to ideas that people might not be familiar with or agree with. We aren’t name-calling people who disagree with us. Women regret their abortions and many, especially pregnant college students, believe abortion is their only “choice” if they want to stay in school or continue on with their plans. We are telling women that they deserve better than abortion and that we are here to support them.

  • GS

    This group seems to like playing fast and loose with the facts. By their own admission, the flyer with “Pro-life ≠ anti-women” was “incorrectly cited.” Less kindly put, it was a lie. As a commenter above stated, the statement that a “vast majority” of abortions are performed for college-aged women is likewise a lie. I expect better from UChicago students, but perhaps the culture of disinformation in the anti-abortion movement is so pervasive that even reasonably intelligent people cannot escape it.

    If they want to “support pregnant women on campus,” they should support them whatever choice they wish to make about their pregnancy. If they want to be “pro-life,” they should be concerned with what happens in “life after birth,” and support universal medical care, adequate social services, expanding educational opportunities, etc. If they don’t, they are at best “pro-birth,” and not “pro-life.” And if you are “pro-birth,” no matter what the pregnant woman would like to choose regarding that potential birth, you are at least perilously close to being “anti-woman.”

  • MM

    Frankly, as a pro-choice woman, I’m shocked by the comments made by “pro-choice” people in this section. If our position is so strong, then we should invite lively debate. Furthermore, many of the issues concerning abortion are not clear cut, and even for people who identify themselves as “pro-choice” or “pro-life” many actually are on a spectrum of beliefs. Discourse and discussion should never be squelched like this. It’s appalling, especially coming from people who call themselves “progressive”. Furthermore, and this is aimed mostly at the comment written by GS, there is nothing to indicate from this article that the members of this organization don’t care about what happens after birth. Frankly, your argument is just another silencing tactic and it makes us all look bad.

  • S

    Cait, many women, perhaps most, do not regret their abortions. Additionally, the issue of abortion would largely disappear entirely if women had easy, free access to long-term highly effective birth control options, if these options were presented to teens in sex ed, and if we created a culture that normalized these options. See: If your group is anti-abortion, why not start raising awareness about these options and facilitating access to them — a response that *should* garner support on both sides of the debate?

  • a debate well worth having

    I’m actually amazed that so many people are be either pro-choice or pro-life. In my opinion this is actually one of the most difficult issues to have a confidently-held opinion about. On one hand, as a man I don’t really want to tell women what to do with their bodies. On the other hand, it’s hard to see abortion as anything but *morally iffy* and I would hate for the United States to ever become like, say Russia, where over 4/100 women get an abortion! …..The solution that springs to mind is expanding affordable birth control available to women. At any rate, the pro-choice “consensus” on campus that Ms. Bowman talks about is somewhat shocking to me because I think abortion has got to be one of the all-time most ambiguous social issues.

  • Falafel

    I would NOT put it beneath ANY student “political activist” org, left or right wing, to deface/vandalize their own signs for pity points and victimhood publicity. I do hope, however, that students at this great university would not sink to such cynical depths.