BY EVELYN FENNELLY
Ireland remains one of the only countries in the world without abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or the death penalty. Its armed forces are neutral in wartime, and are only ever sent on peacekeeping missions. Pro-life student groups at Ireland's colleges and universities have a vital role to play in educating the next generation of Irishmen and Irishwomen about the importance of maintaining the country's pro-life ethos.
Life Society at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) is at the forefront of this mission, seeking to educate the university's students on right to life issues and to foster value and respect for each person's dignity as a human being.
This year, the society has undergone a period of transition. A new committee was elected in Fall 2011 that made the decision to move away from focusing solely on abortion. Life Society's events now also encompass other right to life issues such as capital punishment, gendercide, and racism.
A more engaging approach was adopted by the society, preferring genuine discussion of the issues, rather than relying on shock tactics. This new approach has been successful for the society, with many students commenting that the group seems more approachable and mainstream this year.
In talking to pro-life students, some members of Life Society and I found that many of them knew why they were pro-life but found it very difficult to articulate their reasons to others. In January we hosted a debating workshop for pro-life students to equip them with the skills to talk to other students about right to life issues. It's extremely important to be pro-life in one's heart, but it's equally important to be able to explain to others why it's necessary that society values human beings' lives equally.
Our organization collaborates with other groups to organise the provision of better support for expecting and parenting students on campus. Thanks to the generosity of donors and alumni, we are in a position to provide some support to students ourselves. Members of Life Society recently founded a support group for expecting and parenting students on campus. Nurture is a weekly informal meeting where expecting and parenting students can meet and share their fears, challenges and achievements. Every three weeks or so, the group hosts a guest speaker or workshop on some aspect of parenting. Supporting expecting and parenting students is a critical function of a university pro-life group; every effort should be made to ensure that female students who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant will be supported in their dual role as parent and student and not see abortion as their only option.
In both semesters, we hosted gendercide information stalls. At these stalls, we showed All Girls Allowed's video "37 Seconds" and encouraged students to sign the Stop Gendercide Now petition. In November, we planned to host Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers. Unfortunately Reggie had to return to the United States when her mother unexpectedly passed away and the event had to be cancelled. Life Society's gendercide information booth was one of a series of events in NUIG to mark International Women's Day on March 8th. In addition to the video and petition, we also took photos to contribute to the Women's Rights Without Frontiers photo campaign to free Chen Guangcheng, a human rights activist jailed in China for exposing forced abortion and other human rights abuses.
Photo courtesy of NUI Galway Life Society.
Talking to students about gendercide led to some interesting discoveries. Most strikingly, the majority of students either didn't know the practice of gendercide existed or didn't realise its prevalence. All were, of course, aghast once they learned about the issue. It was also remarkable that even when presenting gendercide in the context of a broader pro-life ethic, we received support from students who would never previously have described themselves as pro-life. Having spoken to many NUIG students at Life Society events, it seems that contextualising gendercide as one part of a broader group of right to life issues challenged many of them to reconsider their viewpoint on other issues such as abortion or the death penalty.
Combatting racism is an important, and often forgotten, issue in the pro-life movement. Even today, in supposedly developed countries, venomous institutional racism can be found at the heart of major organisations. We were blessed to be able to host Ryan and Bethany Bomberger from The Radiance Foundation, who gave a presentation on their work challenging institutional racism in Planned Parenthood in the United States. Recently, we screened Maafa 21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America, which gives an in-depth analysis into the eugenic and racist foundations of the American abortion industry. Although such matters may be difficult to contemplate, we must not shy away from discussing them simply because they are abhorrent. A person's inherent worth is not contingent on the amount of melanin in their skin. Racism erodes a person's human dignity; it is completely unacceptable, and pro-life student groups should loudly and proudly proclaim this message on their campuses.
We recently hosted a screening of British Woman on Death Row, a documentary about Linda Carty, who is currently waiting to be executed in Texas. The death penalty hasn't been used in Ireland since 1954, so the horror associated with capital punishment is now virtually absent from Irish living memory. It is vital that we continue to educate young Irish people so that the country's pro-life laws are never reversed. The right to life is too important a cause to neglect; we must keep working to maintain legal protection for the right to life and to constantly strive to make our society more caring and life-affirming.
Photo courtesy of NUI Galway Life Society.
We have arranged a few more events before this academic year draws to a close in April. We will be raising money for DigDeep, a human rights advocacy and development initiative committed to promoting and protecting the right to water with a Whole Life ethic. They run education projects across the United States and work to provide safe and sustainable water sources in Sudan. A researcher in NUIG was recently given special recognition by the Irish Cancer Society for her work on stem cell therapy using adult stem cells. In the coming weeks she will be giving a talk to our members on this exciting research. On April 27th, we will have volunteers stationed across the campus to collect donations for the Special Olympics National Collection Day.
Our final event for the year will be the Inter-Varsity weekend for pro-life student groups in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. We are really looking forward to meeting our counterparts from other pro-life student groups across the country to share our progress with them and hear about events their groups have organised.
Evelyn Fennelly is a student at NUI Galway and is a member of the Life Society on her college campus.