Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: June, 2014

Oxford Students for Life 2013-2014: Reflections on the Past Year

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I remember preparing for our first term as an official student society in the weeks before Michaelmas 2013; from the creation of our Facebook page and blog, to frantic email exchanges about guest speakers, to plans for what would be the first of many, many 8 am breakfast meetings with the committee, to looking forward, apprehensively and excitedly, to our first Freshers’ Fair. I did not, and could not have imagined then, what an incredible year it would be. From a mailing list of about fifty people, we have grown to a list of over three hundred. Our blog, which began with a small handful of followers, now has hits in the thousands. We have been fortunate to have some really excellent speakers address us, from Lord David Alton to Abby Johnson and Shawn Carney. We’ve had two big debates, which drew large crowds and attention from groups around Oxford and around the country. We’ve been featured in numerous media outlets, including the Huffington Post, the Cherwell, Life Site News, the Catholic Herald, and were lucky enough to win the Alliance of Pro Life Students’ award for ‘Best Student Society of the Year’. Among these highlights, we’ve had many memorable moments – who could forget when Kate Smurthwaite asked us all, at our debate on the 1967 Abortion Act, to leave and donate our kidneys? Or perhaps when, with 36 hours’ notice, we gathered a group together to fight (and defeat) a motion to censor us in the Students’ Union? It has been a tremendously eventful year, and I could not have asked for a better start to what I am sure will be many years of OSFL success.

Our hope in the coming year is to develop initiatives in practical help and support for student parents, particularly expectant mothers. We’re also hoping to bring in some even bigger speakers, so keep an eye out for our next termcard! Our aim has been, and continues to be, to spread the pro-life message to those who have not heard it, to develop a culture of life in the university, and to encourage and unite other pro-life students. The student pro-life movement is not only here to stay; it is growing, and our hope is to remain at the forefront of that growth. We cannot do this alone. We need the continued and increased support of our community, and I hope that everyone reading this will consider the ways in which you might support OSFL’s efforts in the future. We have come a long way, and there is a long way still to go.

Many people have contributed to Oxford Students for Life’s success this year, and I would like to thank them here. Firstly, I’d like to Dr. Michael Ward, our senior member, who has been a constant source of support and encouragement over the past year. We’re also very grateful to Ed Smith, Eve Farren, and the entire team at the Alliance of Pro-Life Students; it’s exciting to watch the student pro-life movement develop and strengthen across the UK, and APS is the engine behind that growth. I’d like to thank Amy Owens and Amy Pether, who were both on the committee last year, and played a big part in getting OSFL off the ground. I also want to thank all of the people who have helped at our events throughout the year: Nathan, our debate chair; Toby, Sam, and Mike; Martin, our ally in room-booking; and everyone who’s put up a poster, shared an event, or brought a friend along to one of our meetings – thank you.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my outstanding committee members. I know I’m not the first enthusiastic student society president to be supremely confident that the people she works with really are the best people on Earth, nor will I be the last. That said, Oxford Students for Life would not be where it is today without Dan Hitchens, Jo Jackson, and Alisha Gabriel. I could not have asked for three more hardworking, talented, dedicated, and impressive people to spend this year with. Both I, and this society, owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. Being OSFL president has been an honor, a privilege, and a total joy, and it’s because of Dan, Jo, and Alisha. All glory, laud, and honor to them.

Leaving is always bittersweet, but I cannot be sad to go while I am so excited for Oxford Students for Life’s next year. I know the incoming committee will do a fantastic job and make us all proud. I can’t think of a better group of people to take this society “further up and further in”.

Molly Gurdon, OSFL outgoing president

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Another way of seeing Down syndrome

Not long ago a friend of mine – who is in his late thirties – said something which I can’t get out of my head. ‘Twenty years ago,’ he remarked, ‘walking down the street, you would see plenty of Down syndrome kids. And now – you just don’t see them.’

The reason is not a secret. According to the 1967 Abortion Act, abortions can be carried out on four grounds, the most commonly applied being ground a):

that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family.

But there is also ground d):

that 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.

No 24-week limit here: in other words, if you have ‘abnormalities’ – which is interpreted to include Down syndrome – under UK law your life counts for less. And as recent news has shown, not only do many of these deaths go unrecorded, but over 90% of British boys and girls with Down syndrome are never born. Hence my friend’s observation.

It all suggests that our society has chosen to see Down syndrome as meaning ‘not good enough’: not meeting our standards of conventional physical appeal, or intelligence, or economic productivity. But there is another way of seeing Down syndrome, expressed very movingly in this beautiful video. Please watch it – it’s only two minutes long:

(D.H.)

OSFL in the news – a roundup

The last fortnight has been a particularly busy one for OSFL. The attempt to block our right to free speech has understandably been met with a considerable reaction well beyond the dreaming spires of Oxford. An eventful OUSU Council meeting, where the attack on free speech failed but a motion to ban LIFE advertising passed, has been reported comprehensively not only in university newspapers but also in national and international media.

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The Cherwell, the oldest independent student paper in Oxford, focused primarily on OUSU’s decision to ban LIFE advertising. The OSFL President is briefly quoted as saying: “we’re very pleased that OUSU Council voted to defend free expression against an undemocratic no-platform clause”. The response of LIFE is also quoted, questioning whether a truly pro-choice group would seek to deny its pregnant women non-directive counselling and the opportunity for accommodation and practical support.

LIFE themselves published a response to the motion on their website. It was very similar to what was quoted by the Cherwell and strongly questioned the legitimacy behind OUSU’s claims that they offered only a directive service. They also commended OSFL for “resisting this authoritarian attempt by a small group of students to stifle freedom of expression at the University of Oxford”.

The story also reached the Catholic Herald. It picked up on the fact that the clause in the OUSU motion never to platform pro-life groups raised concerns not only among pro-life students but the majority of students who wished to uphold the principles of free speech.

The blog ‘Conservative Woman’ published an article about the suppression of free speech on campus. They used OSFL’s fight at the OUSU Council as an example, as well as a demonstration outside an abortion debate held in Cambridge by their feminist society. The blog quotes Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, talking about the “the moral cowardice of no-platforming”.

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Life Site News, perhaps the biggest pro-life news website in the world, described in detail the OUSU Council meeting and its results. The article also mentions in tandem the demonstration in Cambridge, and the importance of making sure there is enough opportunity to see these issues discussed.

For those of you learning Finnish in your spare time, news of the Council meeting even reached Finland. I would love to summarise it for you but fear that may be a little beyond me.

(J.C.)

Ten great quotes about free speech which aren’t from Voltaire or George Orwell

What would it matter, anyway, if Oxford Students For Life were to be no-platformed by Oxford University Students Union? Student politics isn’t that big a deal, is it? Well, perhaps not, but here’s the point. The difference between liberal democracy and authoritarianism does often lie in little things. In a liberal democracy, if someone tries to take away your basic rights, you can have recourse to the existing institutions and they will defend you. That’s what happened last week: someone tried to take away our free expression, we had recourse to OUSU Council, and OUSU Council defended us. Well done, OUSU Council.

Even so, the vote was close enough that this might be a good moment to remember some of the most powerful statements in favour of free speech. And though we may not include the one by a certain French author, we will defend to the death your right to quote it.

1. Aung San Suu Kyi

‘Democracy acknowledges the right to differ as well as the duty to settle differences peacefully. Authoritarian governments see criticism of their actions and doctrines as a challenge to combat. ’

2. Benjamin Franklin

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‘Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.’

3. Noam Chomsky

‘Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.’

4. Lucien Bourjeily

‘Freedom of expression is actually a way for people to know themselves better, and to understand themselves better. Because without it, you become a stranger to yourself.’

5. John Stuart Mill

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‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

6. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

7. Philip Pullman

‘No one has the right to live without being shocked.’

8. Peggy Noonan

‘We don’t need to ‘control’ free speech, we need to control ourselves.’

9.  Jacques Barzun

‘Democracy, to maintain itself, must repeatedly conquer every cell and corner of the nation. How many of our public institutions and private businesses, our schools, hospitals, and domestic hearths are in reality little fascist states where freedom of speech is more rigorously excluded than vermin?’

10. Neil Gaiman

‘If you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.’