Joanna Krawczynski

Student activists flip campus culture right-side-up

Voices April 30, 2018

Joanna Krawczynski, a pro-life speaker with National Campus Life Network, speaks in North Vancouver April 4. (Photos by Martin Dale / Special to The B.C. Catholic) 

This is an excerpt of a speech given by pro-life speaker Joanna Krawczynski to the North Shore Pro-Life annual general meeting April 4.

During one of my first experiences in pro-life outreach at Simon Fraser University, a young woman came up to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said: “I just want you to know that I totally disagree with everything you are doing here.”

Whew. Everything? How do you respond to a comment like that?

When it comes to the tragedy of abortion, post-secondary institutions can seem like dark places. Statistically, university and college-aged students have been recognized as the demographic having the most abortions in Canada.

There are about 300 abortions per day in Canada, about the equivalent of an airplane crash every day – a crash with no survivors. However, there is much reason to hope. In my work on campuses, we are seeing students awakened and stirred to action.

Discouraged, but not defeated

Last November, pro-life students at the University of Victoria hosted a flag display. They rose with the sun to carefully plant 10,000 pink and blue flags into a large courtyard, each flag representing 10 children lost to abortion. The students were trained and looking forward to a day of conversation sparked by this display.

However, soon the display looked quite different. That afternoon, rather than a field of bold little flags, there remained a crumpled pile of wires in the courtyard. Students had torn the flags from the ground in protest. Pro-life students packed up the tattered pieces of the display and went home earlier than planned that day.

A pro-life flag display. (

Discouraged? Yes. Defeated? By no means. In February, the students hosted the display a second time. They stood in the snow, offering resources and an opportunity to dialogue. Again, flags were ripped out and even stolen. Students cleaned up the display several hours earlier than they had planned to mitigate the damage. Yet throughout the day, there was a constant buzz – a buzz of conversations that no one had dared to bring up before.

One student stood, staring at the emptied courtyard. I asked him, “Did you hear about this display?” He said, “Yes, I heard about it last semester and was hoping to see it today, but I guess I came too late.” He paused, staring at the field.

I asked him, “What do you think? Do you have any thoughts about abortion?” Again, a pause, a sigh. “You know,” he responded finally, “I’ve talked to all those on the other side” (he waved over at the protestors still perched around the courtyard), “and they don’t have any compelling arguments. I’m leaning more towards being pro-life.”

Conversation can lead to curiosity. That day, even with the flags packed away, we had about 70 conversations about abortion, and two people signed up to join the pro-life club.

Conversation can also move our peers beyond curiosity to conviction, but this takes courage. As Ambrose Redmoon once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that there is something else more important than your fear.”

Conversation and conversion

Pro-life students at Brandon University in Manitoba have had more than their fair share of hostility. Their posters are torn down within minutes of them being put up. For almost every year since 2012, the pro-life club has fought to maintain their status as a recognized club on campus. They have a lawyer on speed dial.

This year, students are venturing into uncharted territory. We are piloting a new activism project for campuses, called The Bloody Sexism Project. Polls show that up to 90 per cent of Canadians are against sex-selection. Our hope is to expose the injustice of sex-selective abortion, and in doing so, open up a wider dialogue.

Brandon students took on this project last fall. Within two hours of activism, on a hostile campus, six students changed their minds about abortion and 18 signed up to join the club.

Do you remember those mornings when you are cozy in bed, enjoying some extra sleep ... and someone flicks on the blinding overhead light? The light hurts. The light hurts when we have become accustomed to darkness.

The preborn have been hidden from the public eye until recent medical advances, like the ultrasound, have made it possible to actually catch a child’s first heartbeat and hiccups. The truth is, when we divorce biological humanity from the philosophical construct of personhood, this dehumanization leads to victimization. Every time.

A culture of encounter

Almost three years ago, I participated in the Genocide Awareness Project. It is designed to expose the inhumanity of abortion through dialogue and displays of images of abortion victims.

On one of our last days of GAP at Florida International University, I met a young woman named Juri. She shared that, two years previous, she and a friend came by the display, literally kicking and screaming. Juri’s eyes fell as she told me how she and her friend talked about how much they hated the team of pro-life students.

A few months later, Juri’s friend became pregnant. She was in a bad place, in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend. But her story – and her baby’s story – do not end there.

Little Roman is now probably in preschool and preparing to enter kindergarten. His mom, Juri’s friend, chose to give him life. Roman returned the favour, as the young woman found the courage to leave the abusive relationship after he was born. He is the light of their lives.

Juri couldn’t remember why, but for some reason she kept the pro-life pamphlet she angrily snatched at the display. Taking another look changed her life, seeing what abortion would have done to little Roman.

I share this story because the message Juri shared with me is not just for me to hear.

She said: “I have no idea who those pro-life people were, those people we yelled at years ago. It hurts to think I’ll never be able to thank them in person. Can you tell them? Tell them: thank you for saving my nephew. Thank you for saving my Roman. Maybe, somehow, those pro-life people we yelled at will hear this message and be encouraged to keep up the good work they are doing.”

Joanna with members of North Shore Pro-life April 4.

Through campus activism, we can see minds changing about abortion and lives being rescued from death. We can also see a great deal of healing, reaching farther than we sometimes may realize.

Agents of healing

The pro-life club at the University of Saskatchewan was hosting a week-long outreach table in a busy hallway. One afternoon, a young woman approached the table and confided to a member there that she was scheduled for an abortion.

Her reason should break our hearts: she did not believe that someone like her should be given the chance to live. This young woman did not see the value of her own life, and this self-image had become deadly.

The pro-life student ministered to her and by the end of their conversation, the young woman stopped using curse words to refer to her child and made an appointment at a crisis pregnancy centre. In pro-life activism, we can be agents of healing.

As Richard John Neuhaus once wrote, “We are hopeful, filled with hope, which is a very different thing [from optimism]. Hope is a virtue of having looked unblinkingly into all the reasons for despair ... and to say, ‘Nonetheless Christ is Lord.’”

Hope in God’s grace allows us to recognize this ugly injustice we are facing, all the while holding to the truth that there is still so much truth, goodness and beauty worth fighting for.

Joanna Krawczynski is an operations assistant for the National Campus Life Network. 

National Campus Life Network received $8,500 from last year's Pro-Life Sunday Collection to provide leadership training to pro-life university students.