Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Freshers’ Fair Adventures

Ben Conroy shares some of his expertise on representing Oxford Students For Life at the annual Freshers’ Fair.

The Oxford Fresher’s Fair is an experience. With around 3,500 new students passing by your stand over the course of the fair, (minus anyone who sleeps through their slot) and a couple of hundred other stands to compete with for their attention, it gets intense.

I’ve now done one fair as a participant and two behind the stand, and these are some of the main tips that I’ve learned from the experience.

Invite people to talk.

It’s good to have both a hawker’s cry and an introductory pitch. The first one is for getting people to come to the stall. We use some variant of “human rights, life ethics and free flower seeds!” (you can’t give out food or sweets at the Oxford fair and we like the “seeds of life” symbolism). Once you’ve made eye contact, give them a quick pitch for what exactly your society’s about and why they should come to your events. It also helps to have a cool-looking stand!

You’re there to invite people to a conversation, not start one.

It can be tempting to engage people in debates about the issues at the stand: but that’s a waste of both their time and yours. They have a load of other stands to go through, and you have a lot more people to talk to – they’re walking past all the time. You want to invite people to sign up to your mailing list, come to events, and chat to them there.

But be willing to have a brief chat.

You can have all sorts of interesting brief conversations with people if the opportunity presents itself (when they’re writing down their name and email for example). I had a great chat this year with someone about our shared appreciation for CS Lewis, while another person offered to help the society fundraise. Interactions can sometimes get weird: during my first shift this year one guy left our stand only to come back with a bunch of flowers for my stand partner and fellow committee member before vanishing again. It’s also great to develop a rapport with the people on the stands around you – it’s a long day at the fair and you can use some stallholder solidarity.

Be unapologetically pro-life, and unapologetically civil.

The unofficial Oxford Students for Life motto is never more appropriate than at Fresher’s Fair. We’re totally up front about being the University Pro-Life society and what we stand for, but we’re also keen to emphasise that we welcome people of all views on abortion, assisted dying etc. to our events. We almost never get anyone actively hostile (the worst is usually a “not interested” or a grumpy look), and several times someone who initially seemed sceptical ended up enthusiastically signing up.

On that note…

Have an event people of all views will be interested in.

Our first event this term was a talk by Ryan Day of Alliance Defending Freedom on the theme “Whose Life Is Worth Living”, discussing, among other things, some of the ethical issues raised by the tragic Charlie Gard case. That’s an issue that doesn’t cut along standard pro-life and pro-choice lines, and we had a lot of interest in it from people of all persuasions on the stand. Later on in the term we have a discussion of conscientious objection for medics that also drew interest.

Have fun!

If your university has a fresher’s fair or something like it, it’s an excellent opportunity to talk to so many people about your society and pitch yourselves and your events. And you never know what might happen: the conversation I had with the OSFL team as a fresher was instrumental in getting me to join the committee and spending the next two fairs behind the stand.

Ben Conroy is in his third year, studying PPE at St John’s.

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Using statistics effectively in the abortion debate

This blog post is the third in a short three-part series on using statistics in the pro-life debate. This week, slightly later than planned, we are going to look at using abortion statistics effectively in a debate, friendly discussion, argument on the internet or some other kind of conversation.

In our last post, we finished talking about how not to use statistics in the abortion debate, specifically fallacies involving biased samples, false causality and push polls. This week we will turn our attention to the question of how to use statistics effectively and productively in the pro-life debate.

Before we begin to discuss the effective use of statistics, it is worth spending a moment considering some general pointers for having conversations about the abortion debate. Some readers of this blog may not see the point of these, so we need to remind ourselves of something that may initially sound counter-intuitive. As pro-lifers, we do not want to win debates. Instead, our aim is to create a culture where human life is valued equally from conception and without exception, regardless of gender, gender identity, age, sexuality, religion (or lack of one), ethnicity, physical or mental disability. This means that it is important not only to be accurate when having such conversations, but persuasive and compassionate. While we must therefore be able to use statistics effectively, it is also helpful to remind ourselves of how to carry out conversations in a way that will change hearts and minds. This means tailoring your approach to the situation, using appropriate language and arguments; being conscious of the fact that you should be having a dialogue, rather than holding forth on your own; being considerate of tone and body language, and above all, remembering to be compassionate, particularly when discussing hard cases. The Equal Rights Institute offers lots of helpful dialogue tips here and you can read some more useful advice from OSFL  here.fallacy

It is never persuasive to respond to a bad argument like this! Image via the Equal Rights Institute.

Now that we have reminded ourselves of a few key pointers to bear in mind whenever you are talking to people about abortion, we can return to the topic of statistics.

Take care with the sources used

Something that you should always think about when citing a statistic is the source, and how likely it is to persuade your audience. Generally, neutral or pro-choice sources are more likely to be trusted by a pro-choice person, and in addition, meta-studies are much stronger evidence than individual sources. Whenever possible, try to go back to the original sources, and if you are trying to rebut a dodgy statistic, check the methodology in the original source if available. Be aware that trust in various news sources is strongly influenced by political opinion, so you should try to cite a variety of news sources whenever possible.¹ Finally, please make sure that you don’t share fake news by mistake. A list of sources with large amounts of fake news can be found at here.

newspapers

Consider what sources are most likely to convince your audience. Image from here.

Only use relevant statistics

Suppose that you’ve gone through the hard work of checking that your sources are reliable. Even then, you still need to be careful with the statistics you cite. Not all of them are useful, even when they support a pro-life position. To give an example of a mistake the author once made when trying to rebut a pro-choice argument that appeals to bodily autonomy, it does not help to cite statistics showing a correlation between abortion and suicide rates.2 Simply citing the statistic by itself is unintentionally misleading, for reasons we discussed previously. Even if it wasn’t out of context, it would still be a very unproductive line of argument, since it does absolutely nothing to rebut the pro-choice idea that abortion is a right justified by bodily autonomy.

The author of this blog post made the mistake described above when attempting to stop OUSU council from renewing its extreme pro-choice policy, but the net effect of the meeting was that the only one of the 50+ delegates who voted against renewing the policy was herself a pro-life Christian.³

In conclusion, try to think about whether your statistics are going to convince your audience of your position. I would have been far more persuasive had I followed my own advice below…

Use statistics to rebut or advance specific points

The best use of statistics is to rebut specific pro-choice points, and to advance specific points of the pro-life cause.

To give a pertinent example, I should have pointed out that OUSU’s pro-choice policy as written could be reasonably interpreted as support for allowing abortion for any reason, a position held by less than 10% of 18-24 year olds and 5% of women in the UK. In contrast, 51% of 18-24 year olds and 54% of women support reducing the time limit for abortion below 24 weeks or banning it altogether except in medical emergencies.

assisted-suicide-debate

Whether you are speaking in a formal debate, such as OSFL’s debate on Assissted Suicide, or having an informal conversations, use statistics to refute a specific point or advance a specific point of your own.

You could also point out that abortion is inherently queerphobic, since the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion after a diagnosis of sex-chromosome abnormality ranges between 68-81%, in comparison to historical percentages of 23.4%, 19.1% and 29.9% in Canada, Switzerland and the United States respectively. 4

When told that the government should stay out of women’s reproductive choices, it would be good to point out that “98% of abortions were funded by the NHS. Of these, over two thirds (68%) took place in the independent sector under NHS contract“.

Statistical arguments do, however, need to be applied with care. If you point out that abortions due to rape are very rare then this can be useful in some contexts, but if you are asked to defend the pro-life position in the case of rape, it isn’t always productive. Sometimes using statistics doesn’t help, and this is often one of those cases. Therefore, the key is only ever to use statistics for specific and constructive arguments, which is where they can be most effective.

Summary 

Hopefully people found this series on using statistics honestly and effectively useful. Most of the tips will also work when talking about other life issues such as assisted dying or embryonic stem cell research. 5 Here are the key points to remember about using statistics effectively:

4) Think about what kind of a discussion you are having and whether statistics are helpful.

3) Always take care with sources used.

2) Only use relevant statistics.

1) When possible, quote statistics to prove specific points.

If there are any questions about anything we’ve discussed or about pro-life issues generally, please leave a comment below and we’ll try to respond quickly.

Dane Rogers is a third year DPhil student in the Department of Statistics based at Merton College, currently working on Chinese Restaurants and Lévy process.

Footnotes

¹American readers of this blog can see here to gain an idea of how trusted sources are by political ideology, and UK readers can see trust in various media outlets at here.
2For example, a study of 9129 Finnish women aged 15 to 49 shows that the suicide rate among those who had an abortion was 7 times higher than those who gave birth.
³The beliefs of the person who voted against the motion are known as she is a friend of the author, but this in no sense should be taken to imply that the pro-life cause is religious. Groups such as Secular Pro-life, Pro-Life Humanists, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians or Feminists for Life show that the pro-life cause doesn’t just consist of white, straight, cisgender, male, religious, conservative Republicans, and Secular Pro-life does a great job at dismantling this myth.
4Note that these abortion ratios are the maximal ones over the time periods mentioned in the corresponding studies, so the discrepancy is actually slightly higher than the headline statistics given here.
Or for that matter, other issues of human dignity such as the death penalty and unjust wars, racism, poverty and many other forms of discrimination.

Statistical Fallacies in the Abortion Debate: Part 2/2

This blog post is the second in a short three- part series on using statistics in the pro-life debate. This week we will continue looking at some common statistical fallacies people make around the abortion debate and how you can avoid making them in a debate, friendly discussion, argument on the internet or some other kind of conversation. Next week there will be a post giving you some tips about what to do instead.

Last week we discussed some of the problems with using small samples and extreme cases in the abortion debate. This week we are going to consider biased samples, false causality and push polls.

Using biased samples

This is a fairly simple fallacy to understand: if you cite a statistic about abortion, you need to be careful that the demographics sampled reflect the population as a whole. For example, when polling people on abortion, it is important to check that their political leanings/gender/ethnicity/religious beliefs (or lack of them)/age etc reflect the population as a whole.

One example of sampling bias is the polling for the 2015 UK general election. The polls under-sampled Conservative voters, which is the reason why they proved badly wrong. It is not unusual for polls to be around 4% out with a sample of around 400 people, but anything more than this is often due to sampling biases.

Almost any poll apart from a census will have some small measure of bias, but beware of polls or studies with high degrees of demographic or other sampling biases. The above statements on biased samples are probably very obvious, but it can be very easy to make these mistakes if you aren’t careful!

A practical way that this can happen is if you only read studies on a specific abortion topic which help support a pro-life view without checking the literature to see if the results hold in other similar studies. In such a case there is a danger that you might have a biased sample of studies, when what you really want to use is the collection of results from all the relevant studies (provided that there are no significant flaws).

False causality

False causality is one of the most common statistical fallacies that people make, and so it needs to be discussed in a lot of detail. The first thing you need to understand is correlations. Two quantities are positively correlated if when one quantity increases linearly so does the other, and they are negatively correlated if when one quantity increases linearly the other decreases linearly.1

correlation

These data sets all illustrate the concept of correlation. This concept is also strongly related to cubic polynomial regression. Image from here.

An obvious example of correlation in the abortion debate is poverty and abortion rates. It is well known (see here for just one of many examples) that there is a reasonably strong positive correlation between abortion rates and poverty. However, a very common mistake is to claim that because two quantities are correlated that one of them causes the other! This is not always true, since in many cases both quantities may instead be determined by an underlying quantity known as a confounder variable, or perhaps multiple confounders. It may not even be the case that any sort of causal link exists at all!2

A good example of this is the maternal death rate from abortion and the legality of abortion (both in the US). It is very commonly claimed that making abortion illegal will make it very unsafe. While it is true that reported maternal abortion deaths in the US did decrease post Roe V Wade (1973), it is not the case that this was caused by legal abortion. Why? Because if you look at the data since 1940, you can see that abortion related deaths had been declining since then, most likely due to increased access to antibiotics.

When claiming that abortion causes x or is caused by y, you therefore need to make sure that you consider the possibility of false causality first.

Using polls with loaded data

The final fallacy to discuss is the use of polls with data deliberately designed to mislead. Hopefully nobody reading this wants to do this on purpose, although if you do, have you ever considered running for political office?

Joking aside, what we need to discuss is known as push polling. A push poll is one conducted with the purpose of asking loaded questions, typically with the intention of convincing people to vote or think in a certain way. The definitions can vary slightly depending on who you ask, since some users of the term insist that push polls refer only to attempts to trick people into thinking that they are being polled without actually collecting and publishing the results. One example from the US political context was a push poll used by George Bush against John McCain in which voters were asked the following:

“John McCain calls the campaign finance system corrupt, but as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he raises money and travels on the private jets of corporations with legislative proposals before his committee. In view of this, are you much more likely to vote for him, somewhat more likely to vote for him, somewhat more likely to vote against him or much more likely to vote against him?”

A similar issue to push polling is somewhat subtler, but can still have some major implications: changing the phrasing of options available in a poll slightly can alter the results significantly. For example, consider the following three versions of an online poll on voting reform in Canada.3

a.Do you agree that Canada should update its voting method for federal elections to proportional representation?

b.Should Canada eliminate first-past-the-post elections and replace them with proportional representation

c. Should Canada change the method it elects members of parliament from first-past-the-post to proportional representation?

The percentage of votes for yes in each of these polls were 58.3%, 47.1% and 45.8%, even though the question was the same each time! So when citing polls or other data in the abortion debate, check the wording of the question and try to make sure that it’s neutral.

Summary 

Hopefully the above will have helped you to understand some common statistical errors to avoid. Here is a quick recapitulation of the most important points to take away, from the least serious to the most serious fallacies. Remember, these are not just things to avoid yourself in the pro-life debate, but fallacies you may be able to find in pro-choicers’ use of statistics.

5) Extreme cases can be very misleading if used carelessly.

4) Small samples must be treated with caution and the greater the p-value, the more sceptical you should be.

3) Biased, unrepresentative samples should be treated with caution.

2) Don’t confuse correlation with causation.

1) Polling results can be easily influenced by the wording of a question.

Next week we will look at how to use statistics in the abortion debate effectively.

If there are any questions about anything we’ve discussed or about pro-life issues generally, please leave a comment below and we’ll try to respond quickly.

Dane Rogers is a third year DPhil student in the Department of Statistics based at Merton College, currently working on Chinese Restaurants and Lévy process.

Footnotes

1 It is necessary to specify that the relationship is linear, because there may be other ways in which various quantities can be related. For example, there might be a cubic polynomial, exponential or logarithmic relationship about many others.

2For examples of bizarre correlations, see here.

3Note that online polls are usually very unreliable and influenced by sampling bias. As these polls are being tested against each other, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this argument since we test the relative differences in polling.

Statistical Fallacies in the Abortion Debate: part 1/2

This blog post is the first in a short three-part series on using statistics in the pro-life debate. This week we will look at some common statistical fallacies people make when discussing abortion and how you can avoid making them in a debate, friendly discussion, argument on the internet or some other kind of conversation. Next week we will continue to discuss fallacies, followed by a blog post explaining what to do instead.

Today we are going to be discussing an element of the pro-life debate that often gets overlooked by pro-lifers: fallacies involving statistics. Many of you may look at the image below and think that statistics are terrifying and too difficult for ordinary pro-lifers to use, but hopefully this post will convince you that it is easy to argue persuasively and accurately without needing to know anything particularly advanced.
cubic-regression

Although cubic polynomial regression really is as bad as it sounds if statistics isn’t something you deal with a lotImage via Wikipedia.

Here are several fallacies that you can easily avoid making in a debate without needing to study statistics (although there is no harm in doing this). We will start with the least egregious errors and finish with the worst.

Using extreme cases to make a point

One fallacy of which both pro-life and pro-choice people are often guilty is trying to argue a position on abortion based purely on extreme cases without explaining why the argument also works in general. To give a specific example, it is very common to see pro-lifers try to argue implicitly that we should ban all abortions due to some extreme cases such as abortions due to minor birth defects such a cleft lip and palate. The problem is that while such cases are highly troubling, they really are a tiny proportion of all abortions overall, accounting for about 157 out of 922460 abortions from 2006-2010, or roughly 0.017%1. A much more common variation of this fallacy is to cite cases of very late-term abortions regularly, however most (89% or more) abortions occur during the first trimester, with  52.5% happening before 6 weeks from conception or sooner.

6-week-foetus-2

Which occurs once the pre-born baby has reached around this level of development. Remember an image speaks a thousand words.  Image via PMC Canada.

A further example of this fallacy which many of you will have encountered before is for people to try and argue that abortion should be legal in general and to then jump back on the case of rape when asked to justify the general statement. How to respond to this in a graceful way needs a whole blog post of its own and you should never ever be anything other than compassionate when discussing this topic, but it is worth noting that this can be a fallacious pro-choice argument if it isn’t suitably qualified, given that abortions due to rape account for around 0.3% of all abortions in the US.2

That said, these arguments do not always amount to fallacies if you are careful when using them. In the third post of this series we will explain how to use these sorts of extreme cases correctly and honestly without misleading people.

Using small samples

Another common mistake to watch out for is the use of overly small samples underlying abortion statistics. This might not seem like an immediate issue, but it can lead to some problems where seemingly strong results turn out not to be as significant as they first appear. To explain why this is a problem, we need to discuss a pair of concepts called the null hypothesis and the p-value briefly.

A null hypothesis is an initial belief that you wish to test in view of some evidence. If your data is strong enough, you will reject it in terms of an alternative hypothesis instead. This idea underlies the modern scientific method. The null hypothesis is not something that you can prove per se, so much as something for which you can gather evidence and have confidence in the truth of.

The significance level of a result or p-value is the probability that a seemingly significant result was due to chance, given a particular initial null hypothesis that there is no underlying effect. Typically, a result is not considered significant unless p< 5%, with results such as p< 1% or p<0.5% being considered much stronger.

One common mistake is to assume that if a result has p>5% then it is nonsense and if p<5% then it’s really good evidence. This is another mistake that you can easily make if you are careless- rather think of p as a measure of how sceptical you should be of a result. The smaller p is the better the result. For a fuller discussion of abuses of p-values, see here.

How does this connect to sample sizes? The larger your sample, the less extreme your data needs to be relative to your null hypothesis in order to get a result that might be considered significant. Furthermore, if you run a lot of studies, there is a good chance that at least one of them will show a significant result. Citing a single study by itself is something of which one has to be wary, particularly when the sample size is small. Always give priority to literature reviews and meta-studies.

One example which may invite controversy from the pro-life side is the abortion-breast cancer link (which is discussed at length in here). If the studies with large samples suggest there is not a link whereas those with small samples do, that is going to make many people highly sceptical of the existence of such a link, including pro-lifers! Therefore, it is best not to use this argument unless you have convincing data from large studies.

Next week we will continue discussing statistical fallacies in the abortion debate, talking about biased samples, false causality and push polls.

 If there are any questions about anything we have discussed or about pro-life issues generally, please leave a comment below and we will try to respond quickly.

Dane Rogers is a third year DPhil student in the Department of Statistics based at Merton College, currently working on Chinese Restaurants and Lévy process.

Footnotes

1 It is worth noting that official statistics suggest that the number of abortions due to cleft lip and palate from 2006-2010 was actually 14, but that only reinforces the point made if true.

Note that that there are issues with the quality and accuracy of the data, so there is quite a bit of uncertainty around the true value here.

The new Down’s Syndrome screening test and the culture of life

Is it possible that what looks like medical progress to a lot of people might actually result in a societal step backwards? Can a new technology that could be a force for good also harm cultural attitudes towards life? These are some questions worth asking in relation to non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), which the government recently announced will be rolled out by the NHS in 2018. For those who seek to promote a culture of life, NIPT is a good example of why we need to look further than the big, obvious issues like abortion and euthanasia.

NIPT: Medical progress?

At first glance, NIPT might seem like a wholly good thing. After all, this new screening test has a 98% accuracy rate in detecting Down’s Syndrome in foetuses, among other genetic anomalies. Furthermore, as it takes the form of a blood test, NIPT carries no risk of harm to the unborn child whatsoever. In contrast, one of the current tests offered by the NHS, amniocentesis, involves extracting amniotic fluid using a needle, and results in one out of every 100 foetuses tested being miscarried. It seems obvious: if a woman wants to know whether her baby has Down’s or not, the NHS should be able to offer her the safer test.

Purely in terms of miscarriage risk, NIPT is indeed medical progress compared with amniocentesis. Furthermore, many will probably say that its purpose is simply to give women information in order to make their own informed choices about their pregnancy; NIPT is not, after all, abortion itself. To label it as somehow eugenic would be a stretch, in this view. Some women may, in fact, want to use it to prepare for raising a child with Down’s.

were-all-equal

Image via We’re All Equal

Non-innocuous prenatal testing

So, is there a real case against NIPT?

I do think that in an ideal world, NIPT could be a force for good. But I also believe that to evaluate NIPT properly, one cannot merely look at the narrow medical facts about the procedure itself, but must also consider the surrounding cultural context in which it would be implemented. In doing so, we will realise that NIPT would indeed harm cultural attitudes to life.

The reality of medical culture in the UK today is that prenatal testing has become an established routine procedure in prenatal healthcare, to the point where many pregnant women now feel that such tests are simply expected of them. Hence, many women do not fully reflect on what they would do with the information resulting from tests before agreeing to them. This leaves them susceptible to pressure to terminate their pregnancies – and women here are indeed often pressured by healthcare professionals, as well as family members and friends, when tests result in positive diagnoses of Down’s Syndrome or other foetal disabilities. Combined with the fact that pregnant women are often not given balanced information about living with disability, being told only the negative aspects, the ‘choice’ dealt to such women cannot be said to be fully free or well-informed.

The idea that testing is just about giving more information is simplistic in the light of this reality. The statistics are a stark manifestation of this culture: 90% of foetuses diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in the UK are aborted, a figure which is surely also partly caused by negative attitudes towards disability (though of course individual choices to terminate are often complicated and nuanced).

Inserted into this reality, NIPT will be yet another moment in the screening pathway where women are likely to face still more pressure to terminate in the face of a positive result. The fact that NIPT carries no risk to the foetus might seem like a good thing, but it also means that women will be seen as having no good reason to refuse such a test. This will increase the number of women undergoing prenatal testing and hence increase the number of women subject to pressure to abort when test results for disability are positive. NIPT is expected to result in an increase in the number of Down’s Syndrome diagnoses, and based on the current 90% rate the number of Down’s Syndrome terminations each year is thus projected to rise by 92.

It is worth noting at this point that while NIPT is indeed safer than amniocentesis, and will result in 43 fewer miscarriages due to amniocentesis each year, NIPT is not replacing amniocentesis. Rather, being a screening test offered at an earlier stage in pregnancy, NIPT serves to narrow the target group of pregnant women who will then be offered the invasive amniocentesis as a further prenatal test. Amniocentesis has a slightly higher degree of accuracy than NIPT, which may result in some false positive results.

The ‘big picture’ figures – the 43 fewer miscarriages – thus have the potential to obscure something troubling about this situation: NIPT does not necessarily make it safer for women carrying disabled foetuses to find out that information. It only reduces the number of women exposed to miscarriage risk from invasive testing. So, while women not carrying Down’s foetuses will be safer, many women with Down’s foetuses will still have a risk of miscarriage from amniocentesis, and face more pressure to terminate because of this additional test. Is it that we are unhappy with women in general being exposed to an increased risk of miscarriage, but happy with this if they have a 98% chance of carrying an unborn child with Down’s?

NIPT and eugenics

All this is enough to make us think seriously about the implication of NIPT on the culture of life. Evaluating medical technology is not always straightforward because the ‘brute facts’ of the technology are implemented in the midst of human culture. The technology of NIPT, in and of itself, is not eugenic. But given the current state of medical culture here, it will undoubtedly have a eugenic effect. Although the choice to terminate or not is handed over to the pregnant woman herself, so it might not on the surface seem like blatant eugenics, three factors in the screening regime conspire together to result in the high rate of termination of disabled foetuses: 1) The routine nature of screening, which leads to a lack of sufficient reflection on why women would opt for screening; 2) Pressure from healthcare professionals as well as society to terminate; 3) Unbalanced information presented about disabilities, which reinforces negative attitudes towards disability.

So long as the ethos of our culture is not fully supportive and affirmative of the value of disabled lives, morally neutral tests like NIPT will facilitate eugenics through apparently free choices made out of varying motives. Our culture is simply not ready for NIPT, and the way in which the invasive amniocentesis test is routinely offered to women with a higher likelihood of carrying an unborn child with Down’s must be reconsidered.

Those still sceptical of the eugenic argument should know that it is already possible for NIPT to sequence the complete DNA of unborn babies, though this is presently difficult and expensive. NIPT is currently used to test for genetic anomalies; who knows if it will one day be used to identify social features for termination?

were-all-equal-2

Image via We’re All Equal

To learn about abortion and disability, visit the We’re All Equal Campaign. You can find out more information about NIPT and Lord Shinkwin’s Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill and discover how to support the campaign. Find them on Facebook here and Twitter here.

Michael Wee is the Education Officer of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, an Oxford-based academic institute. He previously studied English and Philosophy at Durham University and more recently completed a Master’s in 20th Century English literature at Wolfson College, Oxford.  

Five things we learned from Fiona Bruce on sex-selective abortion

To conclude our Pro-life Feminism fortnight, last Friday, we had the pleasure of hosting Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton in Cheshire, to hear about the huge impact sex-selective abortion still has in the UK as well as how ability-selective abortion laws promote extreme inequality. She told us about her attempt to clarify the 1967 Abortion Act, in order to raise awareness and prevent sex-selective abortion from continuing in the UK.

This is an issue which OSFL has discussed previously, and which has been making the headlines again in the last few weeks, and is always pertinent to the pro-life debate. For those of you who missed Fiona Bruce, here are five key points to take away from her talk regarding sex-selective and ability-selective abortion and the law:

fiona-bruce

It is very difficult for MPs to bring forward a matter they feel needs changing in the law.

Fiona explained that the main way MPs are able to bring an important issue concerning the law to the attention of parliament is to apply for a 10 minute rule bill, a type of private members bill. This is a chance to bring forward a bill to change or clarify the law by giving a ten-minute talk in the House of Commons on a Friday; around 20 bills for every 400 applications will be selected at random. The bill gives MPs a chance to raise awareness in the House and ask others for support, but does not itself actually lead to a change in the law. Fiona herself put forward a private members bill highlighting the ambiguity in the law regarding sex-selective abortion, and her arguments were so convincing that the bill won 181 votes to 1. Following from this, Fiona proposed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which read: ‘Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child’. However, this was rejected in parliament. More information can be found here.

 

The 1967 Abortion Act is unclear on the matter of sex-selective abortion

The act does not mention the matter; this has led to some abortion providers such as BPAS stating that it is not illegal practice because the law is ‘silent’ on the matter. This is simply not true. The 1967 Abortion Act simply allows exceptions to legalise abortion under certain conditions. Sex-selective abortion is not one of these exceptions and therefore it is illegal.  Currently, the British Medical Association condones sex-selective abortion in cases where the sex of the foetus may have an impact on the state of the mother’s mental health; this feeds into the explicit element of the law concerning abortion on grounds of danger to the health of the mother. However, Fiona noted that the sex of the child in itself is not where the threat of danger to a mother’s health comes in – it is rather the abuse that she may suffer as a result of the sex of her child which is where the danger lies, and this is what we ought to be trying to change. Fiona stressed these women need help and support as a long-term solution to this problem.

 

Sex-selective abortion really does happen in the UK

Fiona told us two anecdotes regarding cases of sex-selective abortion in the UK; one involved a mother whose two eldest children were girls – as the eldest of six girls herself, remembering the upset and anger her parents went through every time they came home with another girl, she faced similar emotions and stress during her own pregnancy. She decided to abort her third child after she found out it was a girl to avoid bringing further dishonour to her family. The second involved a woman whose husband began to physically abuse her and eventually request a divorce after discovering that their unborn child was a girl. The issue with sex-selective abortion being under-recognised in the UK arises from women facing abuse and having to give alternative reasons for the abortion of their unborn child. It is important to stress that sex-selective abortion is not just practised within certain communities, either. ‘Family balancing’ has entered our terminology, for example. We have to tackle sex-selective abortion not simply on a legal level, but by recognising the root causes which lie in the devaluing of female foetuses, domestic abuse and misogyny: problems which are still present, if brushed under the carpet, in the UK.

 

There is currently a movement to change the law regarding abortion and disability

Although Fiona’s amendment to the Serious Crime Bill was rejected in the end this time round, there is now a new motion to change the law surrounding abortion and disability. Lord Shinkwin has introduced the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill. At the moment, abortion is allowed up to birth for ‘serious disability’, however conditions such as club foot and cleft lip and palate, which are treatable conditions are included. The arguments involve the thoughts that the law promotes inequality and discrimination against disabled people, and is out of date since it does not recognise the essential contribution that people with a disability bring to the community. As society promotes equality for all, the abortion laws seem to contradict this. Support is coalescing around this movement at the moment, offering hope for the future. You can support and follow the Bill here.

 

Under UK law, medical practitioners have the right to not participate in abortion

The Abortion Act of 1967 states that no person must be made to participate in carrying out an abortion if they have a conscientious objection to the procedure, yet there is pressure on doctors and nurses today to overlook this, regardless of their beliefs. Fiona argues that we should discourage discrimination against those who wish to opt out from such procedures, and that more should be done to raise awareness that this is a right that people have.

Sex-selective abortion is an issue which is unlikely to disappear as long as our culture fails to truly value women, and it is indicative of the way in which abortion is intrinsically linked to the oppression of the vulnerable: its victims are all too often women, or the disabled.

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Pro-life Feminism Fortnight was a great success: we have raised awareness of the intersection between the pro-life movement and feminism, hopefully demonstrating not only that it is possible, but that it is imperative to be both pro-life and feminist, and have raised money to support two at-risk babies for a month through ‘Women’s Right’s without Frontiers’, who oppose forced abortion, gendercide, poverty and other abuses of women in China. Next week we turn our attention to Assisted Suicide and will be hearing Peter D. Williams, Chief Executive of Right to Life, on the question of ‘What happens next after the defeat of the Marris Bill?’ Do join us on Tuesday 22nd November at 7pm in Harris Manchester for what promises to be a fascinating look at the future ahead.

Danielle Green is in her Second Year at St John’s studying French and Philosophy.

New Wave Feminists: 5 things we learned

As part of OSFL’s Pro-life Feminism Fortnight, we had the pleasure of hosting Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Kristen Hatten, the New Wave Feminists, via Skype last night. They describe themselves as ‘Badass. Pro-life. Feminists’ and that is exactly what we got. Destiny and Kristen demonstrated cogently and rationally, but with humour, the way in which our culture systematically commodifies women and sex, and the part abortion plays in a patriarchal system which makes women into objects and enables men to profit. Citing Alice Paul, the American suffragist and early feminist who said ‘Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women’, Destiny eloquently made the case for being both pro-life and feminist. Their talk was filled with brilliant arguments and lots of helpful tips about how to put those arguments forward, but here are just five things to take away from the talk.

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  1. ‘Ye Olde Patriarchy’ has been defeated; it is against ‘The New Patriarchy’ that we must now fight.

Bringing down the patriarchy and its exploitation of women is crucial, but most feminists are fighting the wrong battle. ‘Ye Olde Patriarchy’, the system under which man marries women, woman produces children, children provide free labour, and marriage and children are both profitable and sustainable, is dead. Feminism has already won that battle, but the war continues with the battle against what the New Wave Feminists term ‘The New Patriarchy’. If anything, this patriarchy is more insidious and many women have been raised to be unconsciously complicit. Another term for this patriarchy, according to Destiny, is ‘Douchebag Utopia’: this is the culture of Cosmopolitan, which tells women how to look and gives them page after page of sex tips; the culture in which ‘fauxminists’ see porn and sex work as empowering women; the ‘Kulture’ in which Kim Kardashian feels the need to post naked selfies whilst pregnant to show she has value and is still relevant. Under the tyranny of ‘The New Patriarchy’, sex is a commodity, making women a commodity. Marriage and children are now expensive, so we have turned to hook-up culture, birth control and abortion, which enables men to commodify sex without the financial liability of children. And it is women’s bodies that pay the price. This is the patriarchy feminists should be fighting. And this is the patriarchy that we as pro-lifers must be fighting.

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Image courtesy of the New Wave Feminists

  1. The three groups who benefit most from abortion are not women, but men.

Destiny outlined the three groups who benefit most from abortion, and all of them are patriarchal.

  1. Men who exploit women, using them for sex, and then use their credit cards to deal with the unintended, but natural consequence, by sending women to abortion clinics and hence abdicating responsibility.
  2. Governments, which are still predominantly male, who find it easier to subsidise abortion than to pay for eighteen years of child support.
  3. Child predators who groom young girls and procure abortions for them to hide the evidence of their crime. To see how abortion is tragically used to exploit young girls, and the way in which abortion clinics are complicit, have a look at some of the case stories here.
  1. ‘Don’t be nuts’

In their zeal to do good, many pro-lifers seem a little nuts and crazy! And given the media’s hostility towards the pro-life cause, they inevitably pick up on the craziest pro-lifers, rather than putting the spotlight on those who are rational and logical. Kristen said that if we take one thing away from the talk, then it should be this: ‘Don’t be nuts. Be sane’.  Use cogent, intelligent and effective arguments rather than graphic images and condemnation.  And if you can be funny, then be funny. To get a taste of how the New Wave Feminists use humour to aid the pro-life cause, have a look at some of their videos! (Please note that, naturally, some of these videos discuss women’s bodies explicitly, but more importantly, accurately.)

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It was wonderful to see so many people last night. Thankfully, we all look quite normal!

  1. Sometimes it’s enough just to be yourself

Going on marches and getting heavily involved in activism is great, but sometimes simply going about your business being quietly pro-life is a better witness as it proves that pro-lifers are regular, ordinary people too, and not the crazies the media would like to present us as (see Point 3…). People will probably eventually realise that you are pro-life and that way you will be able to have important, private conversations while simultaneously demonstrating that you are a normal human being.

  1. The ‘forced pregnancy’ argument can be defeated with both reason and statistics.

One argument with which pro-life feminists are constantly confronted that of how one can call oneself a feminist whilst ‘forcing’ women to carry a pregnancy to term. Destiny punctured this argument persuasively and using logic that many would struggle to combat. First of all, we are all (hopefully!) intelligent human beings! We know where babies come from: babies are a natural consequence of fertility and sex. Surely that shouldn’t be such a surprise to everybody! To talk about ‘forced pregnancy’ in the context of pregnancy as a result of consensual sex is therefore a misnomer. If somebody has chosen to have sex, then they can hardly claim that pregnancy has been forced upon them. They had a choice, and that choice was made when they chose to engage in sex. On the other hand, there are tragic cases of rape, through which women had no choice about becoming pregnant. However, such cases only account for 0.06% to 1% of all abortions in the US, so this argument can only be used in the tiniest proportion of cases and hence one cannot argue that pro-life feminism forces women to be pregnant when in 99% of cases, this flies in the face of logic . This does not, however, diminish the appalling crime of rape nor the suffering that it puts women through and all cases must be treated with the utmost compassion. Yet the radical  bodily autonomy argument, which suggests that all human beings, including foetuses,  possess bodily autonomy right from the moment of conception, still applies even in cases of rape. For a nuanced discussion of the question of rape and abortion, have a look at Kristen’s video here.

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Image via the New Wave Feminists

We learned such a lot from the New Waves Feminists and hopefully this will make us reconsider the way in which we discuss both abortion and feminism whilst also demonstrating the imperative of being pro-life and feminist. If you missed the talk and would like to find out more about the New Wave Feminists’ position, this video offers a great introduction to their ideas on pro-life feminism. You can find their website here, like them on Facebook here, follow them on twitter here, or check out their wonderful blog here.

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We hope that you will join us for some more of Pro-life Feminism fortnight. Next Tuesday we will be having our Pro-Life Feminism Fundraiser, venue to be confirmed, and on Friday 4th November Fiona Bruce will be talking at 6pm on sex-selective abortion. To get the latest details, and to see lots of inspiring quotes about Pro-Life Feminism, have a look at OSFL’s Facebook Page.

Preview: New Wave Feminists Skype Talk

Today marks the beginning of Pro-Life Feminism Fortnight! Over the next two weeks we will be exploring the question of whether it is possible to be pro-life and feminist. Spoiler alert, the answer is an unreserved yes!

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On Wednesday, OSFL will have the pleasure of hosting the New Wave Feminists. Part of the pro-life generation, they are fully committed to women and fully committed to life, and are eager to reclaim feminism from those who perverted it. They write ‘It’s time for the return of common sense feminism which refuses to exploit women in the name of liberation and create victims while settling for equality. Instead, we will live up to our full potential and demand others rise up to that level as we embrace how strong and bad ass women truly are.’

We had the privilege of hosting Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Kristen Hatten last year and these radical, articulate and hilarious feminists demonstrated uncontrovertibly for us the extent to which abortion is just another way in which the patriarchy controls and exploits women. The unborn child is just as much a victim of the patriarchy as women are, but society often fails to realise how abortion harms and takes advantage of women. The New Wave Feminists are part of the changing face of the pro-life movement and belie the false stereotype of pro-lifers as staid, religious, women-hating old conservatives – just wait till you see their hair! To see how young and vibrant the pro-life community can be and bust all these stereotypes have a look at this article from Slate.

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Using their own brand of humour and rhetoric, the New Wave Feminists will be speaking to us via Skype and will prove to us not only that one can be feminist and pro-life, but that to be feminist is to be pro-life, and that to be pro-life is pro-women.  Join us this Wednesday at 7pm in the Prestwich Room in St John’s to hear them speak (and bring your friends who believe that to be feminist is to be pro-choice). We promise it will be a wonderful event and are looking forward to seeing you there.

How to be pro-life at university

Whether you’re the President of the Pro-Life Society or yet to come out of the ‘pro-life closet’ as it were, university gives us all a fantastic opportunity to really make a difference in the pro-life movement. While we may not be able to give anything from our rapidly depleting overdrafts we certainly can give our talents and time (especially if, like me, you rarely have more than 8 contact hours a week). So what can you do with that time?

Get involved with your SU!

You may not think student politics is your thing, and often you’ll spend hours debating over whether a printing charge of 5p a sheet is ‘normalised classism’ at the hands of higher education establishments, I know. But, when a pro-choice motion appears, blatant censorship or something else that you feel strongly about, you’ll be glad that you not only know how your union’s ‘political’ system works but (hopefully!) you will have made some friends along the way in respected positions who will be more than happy to stand by your side. At the end of the day it is just as much your student union as it is a pro-choicer’s. Students’ Unions are there to represent students. All of them. So make sure that your voice is heard! How can you do this? See what the student voice team at your university has on offer – there will probably be committees, councils and execs that you can sit on, or, if you’re feeling confident, run in your union’s elections!

Start a conversation!

Be open to having that pro-life debate – when life issues comes up in conversation it is often so much easier to stay quiet or act as if you don’t have an opinion on the matter. However, without getting too philosophical about it, one could argue that not speaking up is just as bad as actively speaking against – acting by omission, as it were. So how do you have this pro-life discussion and conduct yourself in a pro-life way? OSFL said it best when they described themselves as uncompromisingly civil and uncompromisingly pro-life because it’s not what you say but how you say it that will be remembered. Being happy and caring when you speak to people goes a long way in busting the negative stereotypes people seem to have of pro-lifers and it becomes a conversation that people want to have. An entire blog could be written on how to have a pro-life conversation, and in fact it has, by OSFL alumni Greg Jackson so take a look here!

Being able to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, be that the unborn, elderly or vulnerable, is an absolute joy. So, brush up on your apologetics and next time you’re down the pub and things get a little heated, question them – informal conversations amongst friends on pro-life issues are a fantastic way to be pro-life on campus.

Be proactive!

As pro-lifers we always seem to be on the defensive, constantly reacting. Let’s be proactive! What support is there for student parents at your university? If a friend of yours were to become unexpectedly pregnant would she find the support that she needs at your university and the possibility to make a true choice or would she simply be ushered down to the nearest clinic? Are there baby changing facilities? A crèche that is affordable to students and not just staff members? Halls of residence for families (including non-mature students)? Is any of this information easily accessible from both the university’s and the SU’s website? If a student chose to take an interruption of study how would this impact upon their studies? Is there someone that women can speak to if they have been hurt by abortion? What about the men at your university? Is there confidential support available to them too? How about those with disabilities? Are they given just as much opportunity as you or I to get a degree at your university? Research and discover for yourself what you can do to ensure that your university is more pro-life. One way to do this is working together with your pro-life society, if you have one, or with APS, to submit a motion to your SU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) such as a Student Parent Support Motion that outlines your expectations and, if passed by the student body, becomes a policy at your SU, or pass a Free Speech Motion to help ensure you aren’t censored simply due to disagreements.

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The Alliance of Pro-Life Students

Volunteer and Fundraise!

Put your pro-life values into action by volunteering! See if your local care home needs an extra pair of hands now and again, spend time with people with disabilities or see if a mother in your neighbourhood could use a babysitter while she studies!

As well as volunteers, pro-life organisations are also always looking for fundraisers! Why not have fun while fundraising for a pro-life charity? Have a bake-off with friends and charge a couple pounds for entry, do a fun-run, organise a talent competition, sell hand-made cards or donate your clothes to a pro-life charity shop.

Pro-life societies!

Last but by no means least … join the pro-life society, or better yet, get yourself on the committee! No pro-life society? Start one – APS can help! Not quite up to starting a society but want a pro-life presence? Get in contact with APS and we will help you organise a pro-life talk – see if you can team up with some of your university’s faith societies, debating society or even the Women’s Association – you don’t have to be a society to organise an event!

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Oxford Students for Life at the Freshers’ Fair

Finally …

Remember that you aren’t alone! Go to a pro-life conference or event, meet other young pro-lifers, particularly student pro-lifers who are fighting the same battle alongside you, just at different institutions. The Alliance of Pro-Life Students, as well as other organisations are constantly organising nationwide events for you to connect with other young pro-lifers (such as our Celebration & Fundraiser on Thursday) so go along!

So, why does all this matter? Why is it so important to be pro-life at your university? I could write an entire series just on that but I’ll keep it short!

In 2015, “the abortion rate was highest for women aged 21 (at 28.7 per 1,000). The highest rate in 2014 was for women aged 22 (at 28.5 per 1,000 – see the graph below).”[1] The truth of the matter is that the age bracket with the highest number of abortions is for women aged 18-24 … in others words by university students! We need pro-life voices on campuses across Great Britain more than ever. So how can you be pro-life at university? By simply speaking up, whether it is by holding a large scale debate or by the small conversations you have with your friends; you never know what seeds you will be sowing, and while you may not see the fruits of that labour, one day, an unborn child just might.

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This is the first post in a series on being pro-life at university.

Mads Page is the Student Support Officer at the Alliance of Pro-Life Students

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/529344/Abortion_Statistics_2015_v3.pdf

Looking at the year ahead: a welcome from your co-president.

Dear OSFL-ers,

It is so exciting to finally welcome you back to Oxford and more specifically to Oxford Students for Life as the new co-president for this year! The committee is really looking forward to sharing with you our ideas and seeing many of you at our events this term.

  term-card

One thing that I would like to point out to you all is our Fresher’s Move In event in 1st week- we have collected some amazing nick-nacks that we are willing to GIVE AWAY! From beautiful room decorations to tea towels (if you’re anything like me, then you forgot to bring things like that) to photo frames. Please encourage any freshers you know to come along (and even if you’re not a fresher you’re more than welcome anyway). There will be drinks and snacks available and it is a really great opportunity to meet those of you I don’t know so well and tell you about our events.

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Committee members, old and new.

Secondly, there is an OUSU council meeting in 1st week that will include whether OUSU should affiliate with an abortion supporter/provider (such as BPAS, Abortion Rights, Amnesty International). If you are able to, please ask your JCR president if you could have the extra vote (your college gets 3 votes- 1 for the JCR president, 1 for the OUSU rep and 1 extra) so that you can come along and vote against this. Please message or email OSFL if you would like some more information about why you should oppose the motion. Then in 3rd and 4th week, we have several events planned for Pro-Life Feminism Fortnight.

Finally, you are all very welcome at any of our events and we are open to chat whenever you would like to. I’m so thrilled to be serving OSFL this year and cannot wait to get to know you all. The pro-life network is really blossoming and I believe we could be the pro-life generation. Keep preaching love, because all life matters.

Yours,

Georgia

For more information on events, including dates, timings, and venues, please visit our website or Facebook page.

Georgia Clarke is co-president of OSFL