by Oxford Students for Life
This Tuesday, the Student Senate at Cardiff University is, for the second time in a matter of weeks, proposing a pro-choice motion; a wide-ranging and ambitious motion that covers freedom of speech, political activism and purported ‘rights’ to name a few. Amongst the propositions is a call for the Union to “prevent groups which present a threat to women’s safety and intend to restrict women’s reproductive rights from harassing women students in the University grounds” and in the following point “prevent affiliated societies and groups from taking part in anti-choice protests or rallies”.
With such language as ‘threat’ and ‘harassing’ being employed, these aims can initially seem reasonable; of course, if someone values the life of another, as pro-life people claim they do, then he or she would not want the safety of a woman to be threatened. The issue comes when such statements are rather generously interpreted. What the Union may end up defining as harassment could simply be the existence of any group that would voice opinions suggesting that abortion is not in fact this incredible ‘reproductive right’ that it is claimed to be; in other words, voicing an opinion that challenges the status quo. Similar abuses have been suggested, and indeed passed, at places such as UCL where a successful motion concluded that “any future open events focusing on the issue of termination must invite an anti-choice speaker and a pro-choice speaker as well as an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument”. Would such a ‘balance’ be deemed necessary for other issues? In a talk about climate change, must there be a climate change sceptic proposing the opposition too? Must an anarchist discussion group give voice to a supporter of fascism so that a balanced view can be formed? Hardly.
Why is this so then for pro-life groups? Why is there such a concerted effort to curtail and quell the voices of numerous students who oppose abortion? The optimist could say that it is because the pro-life movement is making headway in its bid to protect mothers and children thus making those in favour of abortion fearful, driving them to such attempts to stifle opposition. The pessimist could conclude that the abortion debate has moved so far now that it is no longer a debate that anyone is willing to have: pro-choice is THE choice. The realist acknowledges the element of truth that is behind both of these views but importantly recognises that these things cannot go unchallenged.
What is taking place in Cardiff shows how far things have gone when we so often hear the phrase ‘I believe in free speech’ followed so soon by the ominous sounding ‘but’. As Emma Carragher, the proposer of this pro-choice motion and Women’s Officer for CUSU, reiterates in an article ‘What they [pro-lifers] cannot do is take part in activities that threaten the welfare of women.’ She argues that if the Union does not change its policy, ‘by keeping the status quo and refusing to put restrictions on what societies can do, [it] is effectively accepting and endorsing behaviour that could directly threaten the wider student body’. What does threaten the wider student body is a move like this that attempts to eradicate a voice from the debate.
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