January 13, 2011 ( – The ongoing battle between Canadian universities and pro-life students reached an unprecedented crescendo last October, when five students were arrested on Carleton University’s campus for attempting to set up a pro-life display.

In a video of the arrest, one of the five students – a petite Indian girl with a rapid-fire voice – seems dwarfed by the police who surround her, but nevertheless confidently and passionately argues for the free speech rights of herself and her fellow students.

That girl is Ruth Lobo, a fourth year student in Carleton’s human rights program and the current president of the university’s pro-life club, Carleton Lifeline.

Lobo told in a recent interview that she knew when she walked onto the campus last October 4, being arrested was a possibility. She even tried to prepare her family, at least “as much as I could without scaring them.” But at the same time, she confesses that she hadn’t truly believed that the university would go as far as it did.

“While we were being arrested, you know, it was really a sense of injustice,” she says. “I was enraged internally by just the craziness of this situation – that they could justify arresting their own students.”

“I wasn’t really afraid as much as I was just really in shock that was happening in Canada, on a Canadian university where we claim and tout so many good ideals, and talk about how the university is a place to discuss controversial ideas.”

She says that as she was being led away to the paddy wagon, she was filled with “just a sense of grief, of loss, that something had been lost that day.”

Adopted from India

Lobo says that she has a hard time pinpointing the exact moment or event that convinced her to devote her life to protecting the unborn from abortion.  She suggests that her background has more to do with it than anything else.

A native of Bangalore, India, Ruth was adopted to Canada by the Lobo family at the age of 10 months, making her the youngest of four children. Much later on she would learn that her biological mother was nineteen-years-old at the time she gave birth to her, and that she had been living at a convent that included a shelter for single mothers.

“Anyone who knows anything about India would be aware that especially in India, it would be much easier to have an abortion even than here, and she wasn’t even Catholic,” Lobo says of her birth mother. The circumstances of her birth drove home “just how fragile” life is, and “really just convicted me that the Lord had a plan for my life.”

While her adoptive parents often took her to pro-life events when she was a child, it wasn’t until 8th grade that Ruth stepped forward and attempted to articulate the pro-life arguments for herself, in a speech to her class.

“I remember asking the class whether they were pro-life or pro-choice, and that really told my schoolmates who I was.”  This experience “kind of colored the rest of my high school experience,” she says, “and for that reason I wasn’t really involved in pro-life stuff through the rest of high school.”

It was when she arrived at Carleton, however, that one of her friends, whose sister had run the pro-life club in years past, decided that she wanted to put the club back on its feet. So Ruth, along with two others, Sarah Fletcher, and Nicholas McCloud, resurrected the defunct club.

And that was when things got difficult.

“Immediately we had problems with our Student Union, who tried to ban our club, saying that we were anti-choice and anti-woman,” she says.

Being pro-life on a Canadian university campus isn’t easy

Lobo is blunt about the challenges of being outspokenly pro-life on a Canadian university campus. It involves a lot of suffering, she says. “You really need to have a good support group around you. At least two or three people who are as convicted as you are to fight for life to the very end, whatever it takes.”

She says that people have the image of universities “as an idealistic place where we can do so much, where opinions are never silenced, where there is so much freedom.” This, she says, “is a lie” that she hopes her recent arrest has helped to expose.

Of course, she hasn’t exactly made things easy for herself. Rather than choosing a program where she might have been able to fly under the radar, Lobo entered the Human Rights program, where she says the “right” to abortion is almost always taken for granted.

This past semester she took a class specifically in “reproductive rights,” where she says she strove “just ask good questions and challenge what was going on there.” Sometimes it can be an intricate process, she says, to find the right balance between continually butting heads with her professors and fellow students and simply giving in to passivity. “I had to just kind of figure out what the wise thing to do was in a lot of situations.”

But Lobo has no regrets. By steeping herself in the arguments of the human rights movements, she says she has gained insight into where human rights advocates have got things right, and where they have gone wrong.

“Really, the biggest thing that stands out to me,” she says, “is how the human rights movement advocates so much for people who are constantly put down by society, and who are dehumanized, and they have amazing rhetoric and amazing work that has been done to show and expose the injustices.” But, she adds, lots of this rhetoric could just as easily be applied to the unborn and abortion, “but it never is.”

“And that’s a huge inconsistency that I think is really fascinating.”

Looking to the future

At present, Lobo says, there is a bit of a “lull” for her and the members of Carleton Lifeline, as they wait for the court dates to be set in their challenge against the trespassing charges. They are also filing a judicial review against Carleton’s student union. While Lifeline had challenged the union’s original 2006 decision to deny them club status, and won, the union resurrected the issue this past November. Lifeline was again denied club status, after the union argued that the club’s constitution violates their Discrimination on Campus Policy, which purports to uphold “a woman’s right to choose.”

The upcoming year promises to be an eventful one for Lobo. Not only will she graduate, but she is engaged to be married to her fiancé, James, who was one of the four students who were arrested along with her last October. She and James plan on moving to Calgary, where they will begin to work full time for the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform, the pro-life organization that Lobo credits with giving her the bulk of her formation during her university career.

While it is impossible to know just how many people Ruth may have touched with her activism during her nearly four years at Carleton, she can be sure of having had a positive effect on at least one person – her brother.

In a homily that he delivered shortly after Ruth’s arrest in October, Simon, who is a priest with the Companions of the Cross order, declared, “Yes I am the brother of Ruth Lobo.” And then he added, “I’ve never been more proud to admit that, actually, than I am now.”

“I can’t be a moderate pro-lifer any longer,” he told attendees at that mass.  “It’s become something that’s drawing the line in the sand for a lot of people.”

It would be easy to blame the university, the police, or “those who promote a radically liberal agenda” for the arrests, he continued, “but you and I are part of the problem, because we have put up with too much for too long.”

Ruth agrees with this sentiment. When asked what ordinary pro-life Canadians can do to help young pro-lifers on university campuses, she urges them to take more seriously their duty to become educated on the pro-life issues, and to take an active role in promoting the pro-life message.

Speaking from her experience as a Catholic pro-lifer, she says: “I think that, you know, for a lot of Catholics, for myself at one time, there’s a mentality that because you are Catholic you are pro-life and that’s enough. But when lives are on the line we need people to become educated on these issues.”

As we conclude our interview, she says she has one word to her fellow young pro-lifers: “We need good young people who are willing to step out in good faith and to take these risks to expose these issues. We are entering into a time where the Church is under a lot of persecution, and we will need young people to step out and have the courage to do what is right even in the face of great adversity.

“I really encourage young people to think of the pro-life movement as a job option, even something to dedicate your life to, until abortion becomes unthinkable in our society.”