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Alithea Williams: Officially gagged for opposing abortion. The new intolerance of our universities

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The recent news about attempts by a section of Cardiff University’s Students’ Union to impose a pro-choice union on all students is unfortunately not an isolated case. These are, in fact, one of the main reasons why the organisation I represent, the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), was formed.

APS is a new non-profit group dedicated to building, supporting and connecting student pro-life societies in Great Britain. We formed in 2012, in response to several challenges faced by students who dare to question the prevailing “pro-choice” ideology on campuses. Being pro-life, especially in a university setting, is profoundly counter-cultural, and students often face isolation and opposition. Representatives from four student pro-life societies from across the country formed APS; we decided that a national body was needed to support and represent the interests of pro-life students.

APS was also a response to a surge in student pro-life activism, which has continued to grow. Since we started the number of societies has more than doubled, and events like conferences are attracting ever-greater numbers. Unfortunately alongside this surge (or very possibly in response to it), opposition has ramped up, with vocal demonstrations at pro-life events, as well as the emergence of so-called pro-choice motions.

Of course, people have every right to disagree with us. So when there were protests outside our two launch events, while it would be stretching things to say they were welcome, we accepted it. It was when the opposition started calling up the venue to demand that they cancel our event that we really objected; this is supposed to be a tolerant society, and people are trying to prevent us from holding a peaceful, legal meeting.

This move to completely shut down an idea because you disagree with it, to not even allow people to say something that you find offensive, is very worrying, particularly so in universities, which should be a forum for discussion and debate. Under the guise of equality and tolerance, students unions have been proposing Draconian measures to censor supposedly offensive material on campuses.

I have heard of several occasions of unions forbidding students to have foetal models at fresher’s fairs because accurate scientific models might offend people. The pro-choice motion in Cardiff, which aimed to ban students attending “anti-choice protests or rallies”, is the latest in an increasingly long line. It even sounds somewhat tame compared to a proposed policy at Kings College London, which ran thus; “KCLSU officially adopts a Pro-Choice position which means they do not give any support or funding – and actively condemn – any [Pro-Life] groups who may in the future choose to operate on campus.” Why on earth is a students’ union condemning its own students just for holding different views?

The truth is that some sections of society are very pro free speech, until you say something that they do not like. The incidents at UCL demonstrate this. After the Catholic society hosted a pro-life speaker, a motion was passed stating that “any future open events focusing on the issue of termination must invite an anti-choice speaker and a pro-choice speaker as well as an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument”. Although this pays lip-service to the notion of being even handed, push it to its logical conclusion and the absurdity is apparent. Would this happen to any other student society? Would the Conservative society be forced to host Labour speakers for “balance” or the atheist society a Muslim speaker? Of course not. Why then must those who hold pro-life views be subjected to such punitive measures?

It is hardly surprising that these motions arise when the official website of the National Union of Students states: “NUS […] will unite against MPs who try to take women’s rights away… NUS believes women should always have the right to choose and is working with Abortion Rights…”.
So this blatant bias of one point of view, and the efforts to silence those who deviate from it, are enshrined by the largest student organisation in the country. A timely reminder of this comes in a blog by the NUS Wales Women’s officer. As well as making completely unsubstantiated claims about a pro-life society belittling rape, she calls pro-life students “dangerous malicious bigot[s]”, and “incredibly scary”. She says ominously that “student groups [are] themselves organising to spread their message, the tactics are getting worse and the student movement needs to react firmly”.

So, it can be seen that pro-life students, apart from the general difficulties of speaking out on the difficult issues of abortion, euthanasia and embryo research (it is vital to remember that “pro-life” is not simply “anti-abortion”, but a loving, comprehensive view that emphasises the value of each person, from conception until natural death), are facing intense opposition, even persecution.

APS exists to be a voice for those students, to represent them, to unite them, and to train and enable them to spread the pro-life message. As Emily, a student from Kings College said “being a pro-life student, and fighting pro-choice motions, can be so daunting; it’s fantastic to know that there are people supporting you, helping you, connecting you with other students around the country who have experienced the same thing.”

We do this by holding training events, enabling networking, and sharing our expertise, as students and recent graduates who have faced these challenges ourselves. We do this because we believe that the pro-life message is the most important issue of our day, and one, which must continue to be heard, including in universities.

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Alithea Williams
Vice-Chairman of Alliance of Pro-Life Students

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