Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Abortion and disability: the case for social justice

Guest blogger: Ruth Akinradewo is a second-year undergraduate studying French and Italian at the University of Oxford. She blogs at The Change Channel.

As a Christian who values the gift of life, the idea of not being opposed to abortion has never been an option for me. Still, of late having had my attention drawn to the distressing repercussions that the legalisation of abortion has had on disabled people, I now find myself faced with an even greater pile of evidence to show the extent of severe harm that termination can bring.

Opposition to abortion is typically, and rightly, focused on the taking away of an innocent life; the notable harm incurred on the mother and others; the paradox of having such a high rate of abortions when there are so many childless couples tenderly awaiting the joy of parenting . . . But few people tend to talk about the fact that terminations provide ammunition for the myth that disabled people are less valuable than the rest of society.

I didn’t know it myself until very recently: current UK law permits the abortion of foetuses deemed to have physical handicaps up to 40 weeks. Medical professionals agree that at 37 weeks the foetus is full-term; moreover, general legislation on abortion in this country caps the cut-off period for termination at 24 weeks. But if the baby doctor looks at a scan of you in your mother’s womb and decides you’re disabled, he and your parents are permitted by law to cut your life short even after you’ve fully developed and possess the necessary characteristics to live and breathe the air of the outside world.

In 2011, 144 abortions were carried out in England and Wales after 24 weeks.

That is scary.

What is more, doctors can be wrong: at last term’s OSFL Pro-Life Feminism panel discussion, Emily Watson spoke of how her mum had been told her brother would be born with Down’s Syndrome and no such thing happened.

The UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability, which took place in 2013, rightly compared the aims of the 2010 Equality Act, which promises to prohibit discrimination based on disability, with the Abortion Act, which prevents individuals from being guilty of an abortion offence if ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’

Is it just me or do these two acts of legislation contradict each other?

Shielded by UK law, 2,732 abortions were carried out in 2013 under ground E of the Abortion Act. “Congenital malformations” and “chromosomal abnormalities” were often cited as the reason for implementing the termination. “Down’s syndrome (22% of all such cases) was the most commonly reported chromosomal abnormality.”

I was moved to tears when at the same panel discussion I mentioned earlier, Isabel Errington detailed how one of her friends had defied the doctors and had chosen to carry her disabled baby to term, leaving her only a matter of days to spend in life with him. Despite the brevity of the precious time they spent together, this mother spoke with tenderness of cherishing the gift of a son that she had been given.

The claim that killing off disabled babies is the best course of action for the child (think Richard Dawkins) is not only extremely offensive, it is extremely presumptuous. Who can say before they have given a child the chance to live that their lives will not be worth living?

Try telling that to Nick Vujicic, who, despite being born with neither arms nor legs, obtained a bachelor’s degree, is now an internationally-famous motivational speaker, and a husband and father.

If someone in Nick’s situation can achieve so much despite being “seriously handicapped”, as UK law puts it, then how much more those born with cleft lips and palate, who – yes, it is true – are being aborted under Ground E legislation each year?

With the mind of someone who cares deeply about social justice, I cannot sit still in the face of such injustices. I am inspired by friends and family who suffer or have suffered with disabilities and still rise up each day with fresh vigour to live their lives without being held back.

I cannot bear to see the experiences of people such as these being forgotten or ignored by those that believe they’d be better off dead. Baroness Grey-Thompson, speaking in a talk hosted by OSFL, highlighted that the discrimination that disabled people face shows no signs of abating and I am convinced it is precisely the position assumed by laws such as Ground E of the Abortion Act, that are inhibiting progress and the social justice that the disabled deserve to be a part of.

Five things we learned from Monday’s student parent panel

1. There are many challenges
“I constantly tried to reach out to other student parents,” said Ash Mohanaprakas, who took a year of maternity leave after giving birth to her son two years into her Portugese and Linguistics degree. But they were hard to find. The attitude was that “people come to study, not to have a child.” That’s as true for MBA students, according to Danielle Pearson: “In business…there are very few women, and even fewer mothers” – though Danielle stressed that pregnancy is not a “men vs women issue” but “a family issue”.

Freya Johnston, Director of Graduate Studies at the English Faculty, pointed out that the system often penalises parents. An academic taking maternity leave above a certain level loses her pension; though part-time DPhils will soon be offered, there has been no established route through a degree which doesn’t mean applying for deferrals “as though you were ill”.

2. …but that’s not the whole story
“I try to encourage my fellow businessmen and businesswomen to have children,” said Danielle, “because it broadens your perspective.” Ash agreed: “After having a son, I was far more ambitious. I had to be a good role model.”

“If you think you can make it work,” Freya advised, “you can. But it will be difficult. Your life will be much better in some ways, and more difficult in others.”

3. The childcare system is very hard to negotiate
Both in and out of the University, childcare services are hugely oversubscribed. The panel had some startling tales: of two-year waiting lists for the University service (especially unhelpful when you’ve just started a one-year course); of high and rising daycare fees; of colleges’ reluctance to provide childcare – something not made any easier by the sector’s heavy regulation.

As for the University website, everyone agreed that is out-of-date and unhelpful. “When you go on it,” said Ash, “you’re just doing random searches.”

4. An open and supportive community makes a difference
The panellists mentioned Wolfson, St Anne’s, St Hugh’s and St. Cross – which has an annual student parent mixer event – as especially welcoming. Danielle said, “I love taking my daughter to the business school, partly because it allows my classmates to see what it can be like to be a working parent, a student parent.”

What could us non-parents do to help, an audience member asked? “Babysitting!” came the unanimous reply.

5. There’s a real case for University funding
The BBC reported today that Oxford has raised £2bn of funds for teaching and research, the biggest figure you’ll find outside US higher education. Ash, who works for the University’s Development Office, pointed out that funding is directed towards teaching, research and student support. It doesn’t take much to see student parents as having a stake in all three. And the money is there.

Chair Megan Engel mentioned that MIT had put a lot of resources and thought into their
on-campus childcare centres. Another chance for Oxford to copy an American success story?

(Dan Hitchens)

New study shows the most pro-life Britons are…women and young people

A study from ComRes, out just this week, has shown that women are more likely than men to favour restrictions on abortion, and the younger generation are more pro-life than their parents or grandparents.

Asked whether they would like to bring UK law in line with other European countries by halving the upper limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 12, 43% of women said yes, compared with 32% of men.

The age gap is even bigger than the gender gap: on the same question, 48% of 18-25-year-olds said yes, and only 31% of 55-64-year-olds.

Given that Westminster and the media lean pro-choice, and that feminism and ‘abortion rights’ are often conflated (thought not here at OSFL), these figures – which mirror previous studies – are thought-provoking. Maybe it’s because women know more about pregnancy than men; maybe it’s because young people have grown up familiar with ultrasound images. Or maybe it’s because the practice of sex-selective abortion – which three-quarters of respondents said should be declared illegal – has concentrated the public’s mind.

But it is hard to deny, looking at these figures, that the caricature of the pro-life movement as misogynistic and outdated is a fantasy. And given the study’s other finding – that Labour and Lib Dem voters are more pro-life than UKIP or Tory supporters – it suggests that the ‘right-wing’ tag won’t really stick either.

But of course this is about more than the numbers. That’s why we’re holding a debate next Tuesday on the right to choose and the right to life. Male or female, pro-choice or pro-life, please come along!

(On a related point: a very useful new website, WhereDoTheyStand.org.uk, tells you what your local election candidates have said on life issues.)

(Dan Hitchens)

Pro Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 11: Eduardo Verastegui

When I say the words ‘pro-life activist’ and ‘Hollywood actor’, what are your first thoughts? Oxymoron…. What?… Impossible….Doesn’t Exist!  Yes, those were exactly my thoughts…..until I found out about Eduardo Verastegui, a passionately pro-life Hollywood movie star!

For those of you who didn’t come to our film night last Hilary, Eduardo was one of the main characters in Bella, which received critical acclaim for its moving and imaginative treatment of the difficult issues of life and abortion, depicts one defining day in the life of an expectant young mother and her encounter with a friend who spontaneously steps in to help her. Amazingly, Eduardo actually became pro- life while doing character research for Bella because his director recommended he visit an abortion clinic. During his visit to the abortion clinic he ended up talking with a young actress who was scheduled to have an abortion that day:

“I gave her a little teddy bear just like in the film. I gave her my cell phone number and everything, and then she started crying and she left the place. She didn’t go in, so I thought maybe she was going to come back the next day because she was a little shy with me. I called her like three or four times, [and that was the end of it, or so I thought].”

“We found the actress, moved to New York, finished the film and came back to Los Angeles. A few months later I received a call from the man who was with her. He said, “Eduardo, I have great news. My baby was born yesterday, and I want to ask your permission because I want to call him Eduardo.”I couldn’t even talk. I put my phone down. I was emotional more than I ever was in my life. I went to the hospital and I saw the baby. A few days later I was carrying the baby in my arms, and the way he was looking at me changed my life.He changed my life because I didn’t plan to do this. I went there only to do my work as an actor.”

This experience inspired Eduardo to become more involved in the pro-life movement and since then he has been moving mountains fighting for the rights of the unborn and supporting pregnant women.

In 2010, through his non-profit organization Manto de Guadalupe, he opened a pro-life medical clinic in Los Angeles which he refers to as “an oasis of life” in a “desert of death” because of its location in the midst of 10 abortion clinics. The 5,000-square-foot facility serves 20 women daily and offers free pregnancy-related services such as ultrasounds, prenatal care and natural family planning education. It offers medical services in addition to counseling, and has an obstetrician/gynecologist on staff.

Along with his political activism, Eduardo also travels around the world sharing his testimony and encouraging young people to use their talents for the pro life cause. If that is not enough for pro-life hero status, Eduardo also founded a film company called Metanoia which aims to “produce films that not only entertain but which also make a difference in people’s lives. We want our audience to leave feeling inspired to be a better person wanting to love and forgive more, and that they will have hope and fire in their hearts.”

His next film, Little Boy, out on April 24th, is about a 7-year old boy who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring his father home from WWII. It is a beautiful and inspiring story which highlights the important role of fathers.


Eduardo’s story is such an inspiration and a beautiful example of the fact that each one of us can make a difference whether it be in an Oxford library, outside a local abortion clinic, at your college, in the Parliament or hey…. even in Hollywood!

As another great pro-life heroine said:



Gendercide: the questions pro-choicers don’t want to answer

At the end of February, the House of Commons rejected a bill that sought to spell out the illegality, under the 1967 Abortion Act, of sex-selective abortion. The bill, proposed by Fiona Bruce MP, called for a clarification in the law that the terms of the Act do not allow abortion based on the sex of the unborn. It was shot down 292-201. Many have claimed that sex-selective abortion is illegal, including the Health Secretary. But there’s no explicit stipulation in the law preventing it, as BPAS’s Ann Furedi has pointed out. And the Crown Prosecution Service has twice blocked a prosecution against Drs. Prabha Sivaraman and Palaniappan Rajmohan, whom the Telegraph caught on camera agreeing to procure gender-based abortions in 2012. So the question has to be asked again: is sex-selective abortion legal in Britain? By default and in practice, it seems to be.

This isn’t an easy conclusion to face. The question of sex-selective abortion has cut across typical lines of opinion, perhaps more so than any other question in the abortion debate. Most people, even many who are pro-choice, seem to see something deeply wrong in aborting unborn children – usually girls – based on their sex. The trouble is that once you dig a bit deeper into what exactly is wrong with sex-selective abortion, you end up asking questions that defenders of abortion don’t want to answer.


There are many reasons to be repelled by the idea of sex-selective abortion, or “gendercide” as its critics have dubbed it. For those of us who are repelled by the idea of all abortions, the sexism of gendercide is a blatant insult added to a far more profound injury. For those who don’t object to other reasons for aborting, however, the issue becomes murkier. If it’s acceptable to abort an unborn girl because she’ll be expensive to raise, she has Down Syndrome, or her parents don’t love each other, why isn’t it acceptable to abort her because she’s a girl? Legal abortions are defended as beneficial for women who want to have them; practically speaking, that benefit isn’t altered if the child’s sex is the main motive for a termination.

A number of pro-choice commentators have ended up defending sex-selection, making this very point. But those who defend sex-selective abortion must resort to doing so by fixating on choice in a way that suppresses ethical discussion of the content of that choice. Humans can make good and bad decisions, and the point of ethical discussion is to evaluate what those are. Defending gendercide by giving choice an absolute primacy is a preemptive way of avoiding the real question at hand.

This is a philosophically embarrassing issue for pro-choice feminists. You can’t oppose sex-selective abortions without admitting that abortion is sometimes wrong, and you can’t accept sex-selective abortions without admitting that explicit gender discrimination is sometimes permissible. This is what has made the debate about sex-selective abortion so revealing. This issue calls abortion into question on precisely the grounds that are usually used to defend it, showing that legal abortion may not actually be the feminist victory it’s touted as.

The question of sex-selective abortion isn’t going to go away, and nor should it. Pro-life people who want to win hearts and minds need to push this point, because the gendercide issue draws out serious problems in contemporary pro-choice arguments. And pro-choice people who want to secure the right to abortion even based on the sex of the child need to ask themselves if a feminism that allows for discrimination against and selective destruction of girls is worth defending – or can be called feminism at all.


Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 10: The Unknown Pro-Lifer

Reading the stories of the other heroes and heroines in this series, one might think that it is all well and good to praise such people but that’s not for everyone: we can’t all be Lila Rose or Mildred Jefferson, and indeed, we don’t all have to be. I agree.

So far, our series has passed over the majority of those who are pro-life heroes and heroines, the bread and butter of the pro-life movement: the unknown pro-lifers. Who are these mystery people? Well, you and me (I hope!). We can each be a pro-life hero or heroine by being pro-life where we are now, whatever that stage of life may be. That may look very different for a gynaecologist or a palliative nurse, for a politician or a teacher, for a student or a parent. But heroes and heroines they can all be. Let me just give you one example of a pro-life heroine that I know. Let’s call her Emma: she’d rather not be named, and that’s typical – she’s someone who, without seeking recognition, quietly reinforces the value of life however she can.

Perhaps the best place to begin with this heroine (to cut to the chase) is the day she took into her family home, without asking for anything, a young international student who had found herself pregnant. Terrified to return to her country where the pressures of family and society would have forced her to have an abortion – something that she decidedly did not want – this young woman found refuge with Emma. Flash forward a year or two and Emma is welcoming another woman into her home: a woman left by her husband just weeks before her due date with no support, her family thousands of miles away. Both women were strangers to her; now friends.

In her professional life as a doctor, Emma works to educate others about life ethics – most recently an evening enlightening other healthcare professionals about the reality of sex-selective abortion and why it must be opposed. In her home life, she has shown the importance of these values to her children so that they know should they, a friend, or anyone they know need support, it can be found at home.

For you, the student reading this, again, you may say ‘I can’t do this: this certainly does not look like it could be something “you and me” could do.’ True. But, without a doubt, there is a way you can help promote a culture that defends and values life. Maybe this will be raising a motion in your JCR or MCR to help student parents. Maybe this will be challenging one of your friends when they claim ‘Euthanasia should just be made legal already’. Maybe it will mean writing your philosophy thesis in defence of life, or perhaps considering joining the OSFL committee next year! Whatever it is, each of us, each unknown pro-lifer, can be a pro-life hero or heroine. We can each make a difference.

(Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson, Jerome Lejeune, Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan.)

An easy way to help save unborn girls

If you only write to your MP once before the election, then the best time to do it might be in the next nine days. On Monday 23rd February, an amendment is being proposed to the Serious Crime Bill which would confirm the illegality of sex-selective abortion and prompt the government to combat the practice. There has been widespread public revulsion at the discrimination against unborn girls, and the amendment has a good chance of passing. Lots more useful background at stopgendercide.org, plus a form which makes emailing your MP childishly easy. This close to an election, they’ll be interested in your opinion.

Feminism, the Pro-Life Movement, and Justice

If I could guess the one thing that all women who are actively pro-life have in common, it’s probably that at one time or another, someone has asked us (in so many words); “How can you be a woman and be against abortion? That’s so anti-feminist!” The question can be asked with anything from timid confusion to outraged disbelief, but however it’s asked, it points to a very real issue.

The truth is, it’s not immediately clear how, in 2015, one could identify both as a feminist and as pro-life. The dominant feminist narrative of our age often emphasizes the right to abortion as one of its essential tenets. Many women agree with this, but many women don’t, and have found themselves bizarrely at odds with a movement that is supposed to work for their benefit. But as defenders of feminism have pointed out, being a feminist simply means believing that all people, regardless of gender, are of equal worth and deserve equal protection and rights under the law. And believe it or not, this also happens to be the fundamental principle of the pro-life movement. Those who are pro-life reject human rights violations such as abortion on the grounds of the essential equality in dignity of all human beings, born and pre-born. So while the pro-life position may clash with a few of the specific policy goals of modern feminism, it concords with the true spirit of feminism in a way that those policy goals blatantly do not.

A criticism hurled at many pro-life women is that, in opposing abortion, they are “judging” other women, while a true feminist would support whatever choices women make. This simply isn’t true. There’s a vast gulf between respecting another person and sanctioning any action they may take. Judging an action is not the same as judging a person. Being supportive of other people doesn’t mean approving of destructive choices; on the contrary, being supportive of others means wanting and working towards their good.

The major injustice that legal abortion supposedly resolves is sexual inequality between men and women. Men are literally able to walk away from unwanted parenthood in a way that women are not; hence the promotion of abortion as a way of levelling the playing field. The trouble is that abortion may achieve equality on a crude practical level, but it does so by perpetuating injustice on a much deeper one. Neither men nor women should be able to walk away from their children, whether or not those children are planned and wanted. Pro-life feminism takes the positive approach of insisting that both women and men take responsibility for their children, and seeks to build a culture in which women who are abandoned by their partners are supported in choosing justice even when their partner doesn’t.

Feminism is meant to empower women in societies in which men have historically been the wielders of power. The brand of feminism that defends abortion continues the institutional abuse of the weak by the strong, and in doing so, contradicts the fundamental principles of feminism itself. There’s some truth in the argument that one cannot be both pro-life and feminist in the modern world. But this is only true inasmuch as contemporary feminism has erred. In the interest of advancing women’s rights to create a just society – a worthy and incredibly important aim – we’ve forgotten that a just society is impossible if any person’s rights can be violated by another person at will. It’s deeply wrong that men’s interests should be realized at the expense of women’s rights, and it’s even more wrong that adults’ interests should be realized at the expense of children’s lives. Pro-life feminism demands higher standards for society’s treatment of all people. Women deserve better than abortion as a response to gender inequality; as feminists of all stripes have pointed out, no man will ever have to worry about needing to have an abortion. No woman should ever have to, either.


Pro-Life Feminism: last night’s discussion in quotes and photos







Emily Watson

Emily W

“I was spending time in Rwanda for work recently. They seemed to value something that we have forgotten: life, even life far more difficult than our own; and they really value children.”

“As science advances, it is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss the unborn as just a clump of cells.”


Panel laughter







Maryssa Gabriel

Panel Mer

“Abortion is a defective product. It’s mis-sold to women.”

“The message being sent to women is that women aren’t good enough… If you get pregnant at the wrong time, that’s not good enough.”


Isabel Errington

Panel Isabel

Every Child Matters – that’s the title of a very important document about safeguarding children that every teacher is familiar with. And yet tragically the same is not being said for children in the womb.”

“For any woman who feels unable to carry a pregnancy to term, the first question we should ask is ‘Why?’, and then we should start addressing her answers… Women deserve long-term solutions rather than the quick-fix of abortion.”


Panel serious







Aurora Griffin

Panel Aurora

“Of women are to compete with men in the current marketplace, pregnancy is perhaps their greatest obstacle. Our society and corporations are designed for bodies that can’t get pregnant.”

“It is not empowering to be told that one of your greatest strengths is a weakness. It is not empowering to be told that you have to walk away from your gravest responsibilities to achieve your dreams.”


Raheal Gabrasadig


“Women can feel pressurised into having an abortion… A woman confided in me and said, “I didn’t want to do this. I was worried my boyfriend would leave me.” I wonder whether we in the medical profession are doing enough to help women.”

‘Many abortions are for ‘social reasons’: there are social answers to those questions.”

Panel flowers

First Person: I’m pro-life for the same reason I’m a feminist

DelapOur guest blogger is Sarah Delap, a modern languages graduate from Durham currently working as a Fundraising and Communications Officer for the pro-life charity LIFE.

Do women’s rights and abortion have to go hand in hand? Of course not.

Feminism exists to promote the equality of the sexes: to advocate for equal economic, political, social and cultural rights for women. This can include having access to the same work opportunities as men (with the same wage prospects), having our opinions and thoughts respected, to ultimately be seen as individuals whose worth is not connected to our reproductive organs.

I couldn’t agree more with these aims. As a woman I believe that I deserve to have access to the same opportunities as my male counterparts. In essence: I am a feminist.

But where does abortion come into this? As well as being a feminist, I also hold strong pro-life values. Not because I’m religious (I’m not) but because I believe that a human life comes into existence the second that a sperm swims merrily into an egg and changes its make-up forever. Science is on my side here too – it is widely agreed that life begins at fertilisation; the crux of the abortion debate centres around when that life becomes valuable.

As a woman, the same principle could be applied to my value in the eyes of a patriarchal society. When do I become valuable to society? When I satisfy a man’s needs? When I conform to the stereotype of female attractiveness? When I put a home-cooked meal on the table when my husband walks through the door after a long day at the office with his male chums?

How ridiculous. I am a female human being, who should carry the same value and be awarded the same rights as a male. These points have been made for decades, achieving women’s equality has been recognised as necessary, logical and most importantly, required for an equal society to exist. Gender should not determine whether women and men hold the same value economically, politically and culturally.

It can be argued that the unborn are oppressed by born humans in the same way that females are oppressed by males; the value of the first is determined by the opinions of the second. It is only if individuals meet certain requirements that they are deemed valuable, rather than the group itself being granted this status on the simple grounds that they are human and deserve to be treated in the same way as other humans.

There is an irony, therefore, given that the unborn and women are both oppressed, that it is women’s rights and feminist groups who advocate for increased access to abortion, for the unborn to be oppressed ever further. Feminists are battling oppression with more oppression. The patriarchal society in which we live cannot believe its luck – it can continue to control women’s bodies without doing anything. The feminist movement is doing all the hard work for them under the mantra of “choice”; women can choose to further their career and to access further education – they just can’t choose those things and have children anywhere near as easily as men can. If women do choose a career and children, they don’t ‘have it all’ like they were once promised, they simply end up exhausted from ‘doing it all’. Survey after survey shows that working mothers still do the vast majority of childcare and domestic chores compared to working fathers.

Little wonder then, that women’s fertility is looked on as an inconvenience, something which gets in the way of having consequence-free sex. We seem to overlook the fact that sex is a must if you’re to make a baby, and are shocked when it succeeds – whether that was the original intention or not. Regardless of its “wanted-ness”, we’ve already agreed that the pregnancy is now another human life, so how do we weigh up whose life is worth more? Are not the woman and the life growing inside her two sides of the same coin, which need to be cared for and respected equally, in the same way that born men and women should be viewed and respected as equal?

Whilst I’m certainly not claiming to know exactly how this can be achieved, I strongly believe that the current ‘quick-fix’ solution of abortion is far from the most positive approach – for men, women and children. Women are choosing to abort their pregnancies because it is the only way they see to participate in society on an equal footing with men. But what victory for feminism is this, when this ‘equality’ is built upon the oppression of unborn members of our society? Not only are they stinting the progress of achieving true equality, they are deploying the very techniques which we experience first-hand and deplore.

Have the oppressed become the oppressors? As victims of bullying, are women really ok with becoming bullies themselves? I’d like to think that we are better than that and that’s why I am a pro-life feminist.

A reminder that, as part of our 3rd Week focus on pro-life feminism, we’re hosting a panel discussion tomorrow at Exeter. Please come along!

Previously in this series: Robert Stagg, ‘Why I am a pro-life atheist’.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers