Pro-life students charge on despite vandalism

Students for Life gained RSO status last fall.

By Hamid Bendaas

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.”