OTTAWA — When Lia Mills gave a speech on abortion to her seventh grade Toronto class two years ago, she never expected it to go viral on YouTube.
Rebecca Richmond intended to bake cookies to support her university pro-life group. She never thought she would become the group's leader and eventually the executive director of the National Campus Life Network, mentoring leaders across the country.
When Mills, 14, chose to talk about abortion, her teacher told her the subject was too big and too controversial and suggested she find another. When Mills said she must talk about abortion, her teacher told her she would be eliminated from an upcoming speech contest if she spoke about abortion in front of the class.
Mills went ahead and her teacher decided to allow her into the speech contest as long as she took out one sentence that made reference to God.
Since God originally told me to do the topic on abortion, how could I take him out? she told the International Pro-Life Conference here recently. The teacher relented.
During the contest, "one of the judges stepped down and refused to listen," Mills said.
But that reaction paled in comparison to what followed. A videotape of her speech on YouTube drew "so much backlash and opposition," that online comments included death threats, and negative remarks about her faith and her family. The video has received one million views.
"I was stepping into a spiritual battle I was not aware of," she said.
But Mills and her family decided not to avoid the conflict. "We have to embrace (conflict) in the right way," she said, noting anger and frustration are wrong ways to respond.
Mills has since posted three videos on YouTube on abortion, and has also done a speech on euthanasia.
She urged young people to respond to God's call, trusting that he will help them even if they think the problems are too big for them. "Some things will only change when I become willing to change the status quo."
Mills suggested sticking to the key issues and staying on message rather than getting lured into debating side issues. The key point to make is the unborn child is a person. "Make sure you know your enemy," she said, noting the "battle is not against flesh and blood."
Richmond's battlefront concerns the growing censorship of pro-life clubs on the university campus.
Recently, she witnessed the recent arrest of five students on the Carleton University campus after they tried to mount a display contrasting graphic pictures of abortion with pictures from recent genocides.
"Until last week, I had never seen someone get arrested," she said. She had watched as Carleton Lifeline president Ruth Lobo and four others were handcuffed and "taken away in a paddy wagon."
She could not believe this was happening in Canada.
Richmond said pro-life students across the country have faced discrimination on campus even for holding debates as well as for the controversial Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) displays. At York University, a debate was banned because the pro-life position was deemed "hate speech" and similar to having a debate about whether a man should beat his wife, she said.
Though some have criticized the GAP displays, Richmond said the pro-life message will "always face censorship in every medium."
Richmond, like Mills, never planned to be on the forefront of the movement. She had planned on marrying and having eight children while pursuing a master's degree once she finished university, she joked.
"I wanted to be the cookie girl," she said. "One minute I'm baking cookies, the next minute I'm the club president."
She had no confidence in her abilities to be a leader, but found much support in the National Campus Life Network she now leads. They gave her ideas, advice and guidance for successful events.
"It is essential to have the pro-life message on campus because the majority of abortions are performed on university-aged students," she said. "University pro-life students have a unique ability to save lives."
The university is also preparing future leaders in a whole range of fields, she said, so it is important to reach them so they can make a difference.