If you’ve wandered through Bunt in the past weeks, you may have noticed the reemergence of a common sight — the Pro-Life organization running their poll table. This table attempts to pull in students with questions like: “Should abortion remain legal?” or “How far along should abortion be allowed?” Oles for Life wants to grab students in conversation so they can display their knowledge of pro-life talking points parroted by conversative leaders. However their table isn’t just a harmful display of anti-abortion talking points, it’s also a thinly veiled attempt to use conversations with students to build up pro-life argumentation without their consent. An exploration into Oles for Life’s social media shows that their past president, Emily Albrecht ’21, now works for the Equal Rights Institute, whose website states that their goal “isn’t just to help you win a debate, but to show you how to help pro-choice people change their mind.” Their website, podcasts, and videos consistently use Oles for Life as an example of a pro life success story on a college campus. The ERI uses stories of pro-choice activists to make fun of their attempts to remove harmful, dangerous rhetoric and information from our campus, all while patting themselves on the back for helping Oles For Life promote a prolife worldview. Under the section “Campus Outreach,” the ERI explicitly states on their website that “… their staff engage in campus outreaches, giving us an opportunity to field-test new arguments or new ways to communicate old arguments. We love R&D and a college campus is our lab…We will continue to experiment and train pro-life advocates in making the arguments that are most persuasive to the pro-choice college students of today.” They use our campus as their “lab” yet, nowhere does Oles for Life say that they are gathering data from student conversations and giving it to the ERI. Oles for Life’s poll table instead functions as an environment to record students stories and experiences, which can often be painful and personal due to the topic of abortion. This campus is the place in which we live and coexist, and therefore should hypothetically be a space in which we are protected from unethical research committed without our knowledge. Research at St. Olaf falls under the authority of the Institutional Review Board (IRB), with the goal of affirming ethical principles of “respect, beneficence, and justice”. The Institutional Review Board outlines that any project involving people needs to follow those principles and has various other training focused on ethical research practices that students, faculty, and staff alike must follow. Additionally, the IRB guidelines specifies that “people should be able to make fully-informed and completely voluntary decisions about whether to participate in a study, and they should have control over the information about them that is shared with others.” No student walking up to the Oles for Life table is asked for their consent to use their responses for research or data collection purposes, in fact. Oles for Life facilitates research of student responses on behalf of the ERI without any oversight whatsoever.
While it may seem harmless or even productive to argue with Oles for Life, that engagement just allows them to abuse your conversation and ultimately uses your ideas to force harmful and inaccurate medical information and anti-abortion propaganda. Past Oles for Life members at the ERI have made countless videos claiming that their tactics have worked on our campus and that they are just there to listen and care about those they interact with. But, every bit of the training the ERI gives to Oles for Life makes them feel more emboldened to turn any conversation into a chance to convert students to be pro-life, no matter what.
If you’re feeling helpless in the post-Roe abortion landscape like I am and are looking for a way to uphold legal abortion, consider putting your energy toward a local group fighting for abortion access or financially support an abortion fund if you’re able. At the end of the day, keep fighting to keep abortion possible here in Minnesota, and don’t let organizations like the Equal Rights Institute feel like they’re winning on this campus.
Hannah Goldner Niederman is from Skokie, Ill.
Their majors are political science and gender and sexuality studies.