Today Cardiff University Students Union is due to debate a motion stating that it is a “Pro-Choice union”, threatening the activities of the Students for Life society, and any other society that has an objection to abortion.
In a week that saw Oxford Students for Life gain national and international media attention after their scheduled debate between journalists Tim Stanley and Brendan O’Neill on abortion culture was cancelled due to threats of disruptive protest, another attack on free speech has re-emerged at Cardiff University.
I last blogged on this issue in May, after a pro-choice motion was brought forward at the Student Senate at Cardiff in April. The meeting proved to be a farce, with senators marking their votes before even listening to the speakers, and proceeding to talk over the speeches that were delivered. Amendments from the Union’s elected officers were rejected, and calls to refer the issue to the wider student body were twice voted down. Eventually, the motion was withdrawn when the meeting was found to be inquorate.The student paper, the Gair Rhydd called the affair a “shambles”.
Given that the motion has been brought back, with only minor amendments, the objections remain the same. Declaring a union “pro-choice” seeks to impose a uniform ideological viewpoint on the entire student body and tramples upon the right to free speech and expression of those who disagree. Universities should be places of free and open expression and debate; all views, including those of pro-life students, must be allowed a fair hearing.
Moreover, the proposals are couched in highly subjective language. Phrases such as “shames women” and “harassing women students” could be interpreted in any way. What does “groups which present a threat to women’s safety” mean? Given that the next clause is “and intend to restrict women’s reproductive rights”, or, as the proposers clearly mean, “anyone opposed to abortion”, it is clear that they directly target the pro-life society. The motion also proposes to “Prevent affiliated societies and groups from taking part in anti-choice protests or rallies outside of abortion clinics and under the banner of the student’s union”. Again, “anti-choice” can be interpreted very widely, including encompassing those who favour any kind of restriction on abortion.
As happened in April, the motion is being opposed by students across the university, operating under the banner “Keep Cardiff Uni Free”. Rosie Amery, a spokeswoman for the group, commented:
“At last year’s AGM, the Student Union voted to reject a No Platform policy. We believe this “pro-choice” motion represents nothing more than a No Platform policy in disguise.
Keep Cardiff Uni Free was set up in response to this anti-free speech motion, to represent all students who believe in free speech. We represent female and male, pro-choice and pro-life, LGBT+ and straight students. We are committed to freedom of speech on campus and believe in something very simple: all students should have the right to express their sincerely held beliefs within the law.”
As I noted in my previous piece, this is not an isolated incident. In the last few weeks there was an attempt to deny Cambridge Students for Life a stall at Freshers Fair, The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children was banned from Dundee University, and Oxford Students for Life was prevented from holding a debate on ‘abortion culture’ as protesters rejected the notion that their male speakers could comment on this issue. It is vital that we fight this trend for censorship on campus. Please show your support for the students fighting this motion, by tweeting with the hashtag #KeepCardiffUniFree.