Nelson Nottveit has always considered himself pro-life, but he never thought he’d be the president of the club. After showing up at the University of Calgary pro-life club’s annual meeting, he found himself in the surprising position of being its president, and now he is working to rebuild it.

Nottveit, an electrical engineering student at the University of Calgary, credits his beliefs to life growing up.

“My mom was a homemaker, and I remember six of her nine pregnancies,” Nottveit explained.

Being the eldest of eight children, Nottveit witnessed “the progression of a pregnancy from morning sickness to birth” again and again.

Growing up, he says he never saw the “difference between the growing fetus and a living child,” a view he continues to hold today.

Nevertheless, before becoming a pro-life activist, he said, “As a guy, I didn’t think there was much that it had to do with me.”

The HUSH screening was held within campus grounds at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Katherine HolfordBut at the end of Nottveit’s first year in the university, he attended the annual general meeting held by Campus Pro-Life, “more out of sheer curiosity than anything.”

He said that when he walked into the meeting, he was the only one there aside from three of the club’s members, including Cameron Wilson, its former president, and McKenzie Schwittai.

“I walked in and they said, ‘So are you pro-life?’”

He said yes. But when asked why, he did not know what to say other than “It’s the right thing, I guess.”

“At that point,” Nottveit continued, “they explained to me very logically how if we believe that life begins at conception and ends at death, then a human being is a human being throughout that entire period.”

Prior to that meeting, Campus Pro-Life had been embroiled in controversy after seven of its members, including Wilson, refused a university security staff request to turn a display featuring aborted foetuses inward. As a result of that refusal, they were given a formal written warning. The students took the university to court after they were denied an opportunity to appeal that decision. The Court of Queen’s Bench sided with the students in April 2014 and those warnings were scrapped, according to a letter sent to the students’ lawyer.

Nottveit said that he was then put in charge of the club since he “was the only student who happened to show up at their annual general meeting.”

“I realized that there was something actively that I could do to help change the issue or affect it,” Nottveit said. “So, at that point, that’s when I became president of the pro-life club.”

Nottveit said that he has no “prior experience running any sort of organizations of any kind,” explaining that in his first year as president, the pro-life club wasn’t as active as it previously was. That changed when the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform — a group that, according to their website, focuses its efforts “on making the killing of pre-born human beings unthinkable” — sent some people to help Nottveit out, by conducting what they call a “choice chain.”

“We’ll set up in some part of the university and hold up signs, both of ultrasounds of babies ranging from nine weeks to 32 weeks-ish and then aborted foetuses of the same age range,” said Nottveit.

The group would then try to discuss their ideas on abortion to people passing by.

But these are not the main efforts of U of C’s pro-life club, according to Nottveit. He said that “the pro-life club on campus aims to inform people but at the same time also to provide support.”

“Those images are very effective at making people think about it and talk about it, but they don’t necessarily offer support to women who have had abortions.”

To provide support for unexpected pregnancies, Nottveit said the pro-life club connects couples or women to Calgary pregnancy care centres or various unexpected pregnancy homes throughout the city.

“So more or less our goal is just to provide women with as many other options as possible,” he said.

Earlier this year, Nottveit also hosted a screening of HUSH, a documentary recommended by the National Campus Life Network, “a group that connects all the different campuses and the pro-life clubs across Canada.”

“Those images are very effective at making people think about it and talk about it, but they don’t necessarily offer support to women who have had abortions.” – Nelson Nottveit

HUSH was directed by Punam Kumar Gill, who also happens to be in the documentary as she searched for answers to her questions on abortion. She proclaimed herself to be “pro-choice” throughout the entire film. Executive producer, Drew Martin, was described as being “pro-life” on the documentary’s website while producer, Joses Martin, was said to be “neutral.” Released in July 2016, the documentary includes findings, research, historical accounts, real-life stories, experiences, claims, and studies taken by the group to show the effects of abortion on the physical and mental well being of women.

Around 20 people showed up for Nottveit’s screening of the documentary on Feb 2. Among them were Foundations For the Future Charter Academy high school teachers, Catherine Gay and Natalie Ross, friends who stand on opposite ends of the abortion spectrum with Gay being pro-life and Ross being pro-choice.

At the end of the two-hour long documentary, Ross explained that the documentary “hasn’t really strengthened or unstrengthened” her stance, saying that the film didn’t really come off as “diverse” in opinion or information as she’d thought but liked how it focused “on information as opposed to being necessarily pro-choice or pro-life.”

By comparison, Gay was well convinced by the research conducted in the documentary.

“I wasn’t expecting the perspective of the producer, as a pro-choice producer, to be so open… really wanting to get to the depth of the issue despite beginning to end, maintaining a pro-choice position,” she said.

“We have divided the whole issue into two massive extremes,” said Nottveit.

“The movie came from a very good perspective,” he said. “It was not about being pro-life or being pro-choice.”

“It was about [taking] an honest look at how [abortion] affects women’s health, psychologically, physically, in every sort of way.”

As for the future, Nottveit cannot tell “how much time, money, and energy” he’ll be able to put into the club’s future projects but as for now, the HUSH screening will do.

rdesouza@cjournal.ca, kholford@cjournal.ca

Editor: Amber McLinden | amclinden@cjournal.ca