Carleton University's student council made a well meaning stab at a better world today when it barred anti-abortion student groups from receiving funds or occupying student-managed space. According to Canada's National Post, the council issued a "carefully worded policy amendment" explicitly excluding any group with anti-abortion mandates: "CUSA further affirms that actions such as campaigns, distributions, solicitations, lobbying efforts, displays, events, etc. that seek to limit or remove a woman's options in the event of pregnancy will not be supported."
If this is just a little too carefully worded to be crystal clear, Shawn Menard, the Carleton University Student Association president, framed the issue more bluntly: "Where we draw the line in terms of anti-choice is that anti-choice is a stance that aims to limit or remove a woman's right to choose her best option in the case of pregnancy."
In a perfect world, drawing the line there sounds like an okay idea. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. As annoying as it must be to watch a small pro-life minority wasting precious student funds striding around the student union flyering about the next ugly protest at the local abortion clinic, it's hard to see how preventing them from doing so will do anything but ramp up the culture wars. Plus, creating university rules according to dominant values can go both ways: This same policy could easily be used to bar funds to gay student groups on conservative university campuses because they offend the prevailing mores. To the charge of limiting free speech, Menard reportedly explained that pro-life groups are free to say or do whatever they want, but said that doesn't mean the student council should be forced to fund them. In a deft bit of rhetorical hairsplitting, Menard explained that if an anti-abortion group focussed on being "pro-life" and not "anti-abortion," maybe they could continue to receive funding.
And, sure, free speech doesn't guarantee free money to disseminate that speech. But that's the same argument that kept artists like Andres Serrano from receiving National Endowment for the Arts funding. When a government, university group or any organization that is supposed to support the free flow of ideas argues that a group deserves less support than other groups on the basis of its opinions, the principles it's relying on don't sound terribly democratic. Some pro-lifers may indeed be hate-mongering misogynists fixated on limiting women's choices, but most honestly believe abortion is murder. In the end, if we treat the anti-abortion stance as something too powerful to be voiced on college campuses, we may only fuel anti-choice rallying cries.