Response to the Silent Heckler at St. Mary’s College
On September 25th, SFLA Regional Coordinator Stephanie Schmitt took our fall tour to St. Mary’s College of Maryland. They had a bit of a silent heckler that day which they thought nothing of. Turns out, the heckler wrote a completely biased and semi-made-up story about our display (and Stephanie!) in the school’s paper, “The Point”. Stephanie decided to write her own response to the article.
By Stephanie Schmitt
Confronting conflict head-on through informed dialogue is the best, and in most cases, only way for society to make meaningful change, and last week at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, one student heckler was completely unwilling to talk with us while simultaneously trying to sabotage our informative display. Personally, I would rather have heated debates with 100 passionate pro-choicers than have experienced the disrespectful passivity of this protestor, who I later found out posted a completely biased article in the student paper about our display.
Seahawks for Life, a pro-life student group at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, hosted Students for Life’s #TheyFeelPain Tour on September 25th. The tour goes into the science of how by 20 weeks, it is proven that babies feel pain. Further, the tour asks that students sign a petition to at least ban abortions after this point where the baby can feel pain.
The group did an amazing job! Standing up for life at a public school of your peers can be an extremely nerve-wracking task, but these students were bold and courageous, ultimately reaching almost 100 students and changing over 20 minds with the information we had to share.
At one point, however, a student protestor silently took a seat 10 feet from our display. At first, I thought nothing of this; this could simply be a student doing their homework in the halls, but eventually, over the course of an hour, the student began interrupting our conversations with students passing by claiming that our display had faulty information and that I was misrepresenting the reason we were there. After each interruption, I reached out to show her our sources, but she would quietly sit back down and ignore us.
Seahawks for Life’s President, Annie Lowry explains the situation: “I was sorely disappointed that this young lady obstinately refused to engage in conversation with us. She cared enough to walk after the people who had talked to us, just to tell them that we were wrong, but she didn’t care enough to tell us why we were wrong. Of all the scenarios I’ve prepared for as a pro-life student leader on a public college campus, I never expected this. A protestor who refused to directly protest us to our faces- what progress could she hope to make?”
On several occasions, we reached out to the student, who I now know is named Natasha Pillai, and asked if she would like to have a dialogue. Our group respectfully asked her to share her viewpoint and debate with us at least 5-6 times. Each time, we received curt responses such as, “I don’t have anything to say to anti-abortionists”. Eventually, as she was leaving, I reached out to her saying, “Even if we disagree, I still think it was extremely brave that you were out here by yourself standing up for what you believe. Are you sure you don’t want to have a conversation?” and I extended my hand. Ms. Pillai looked down at my hand, ignored the offer at a handshake, and said, “We don’t have anything to say to one another,” and walked away.
This was discouraging to me. Part of what I love about this mission is the dialogue I get to have when I join groups on campuses for tours such as this one because I learn so much, and I am usually able to discuss my beliefs with pro-choice and pro-life people alike with an open and honest heart. Respectful and resourceful dialogue is the only way things will change in this country, and I firmly believe that.
However, instead of confronting us head-on in the form of respectful dialogue, as over 100 of her peers were able to do, Ms. Pillai decided to act as a spy, rudely interrupting our conversations, and later writing a completely biased article about our display in which she misrepresented me, Seahawks for Life, and our display. In some cases, she completely made up quotes to support the thesis that we “anti-abortion” activists are cunning liars who know how to spin a tale.
The article draws an elaborate caricature of me, the sneaky Regional Coordinator, luring students in with a false promise about Fetal Pain bills and makes the claim that we had a “lack of honesty about motives”, and that “the displays claims were easily dispensed with”. If only Ms. Pillai did not practice this sort of cunning herself in her tactics, maybe we could have changed each other’s minds. Or at least tried to, rather than being attacked silently and incorrectly without a chance to respond.
Our only goal with this Fall Tour was to educate campuses about Fetal Pain, and I feel we represented the facts quite well with sources from the Center for Disease Control, Prevention and National Right to Life, and so many more. Not once were we vague about our motives; from the get-go Students for Life has always been quite open that our mission is to abolish abortion in our lifetime; not once did we give the impression that the 20 week ban was our ultimate and final goal.
The purpose of this #TheyFeelPain Tour is to inform students about the truth of Fetal Pain and petition for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. And the Tour has only just begun; it’s national, and it’s coming to states near you! This is a truly fact-filled and eye-opening tour, so please feel free to come dialogue with us and our student groups! Ms. Pillai, I’d like to extend the invitation to you as well…for the 7th time.