Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

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!


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.


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.


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!


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.



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.


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.


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.



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

Georgia Clarke is co-president of OSFL

Oxford Students for Life 2015/16: Reflections on the Past Year

This is the text of the speech delivered by Johnny and Jo, the outgoing OSFL Presidents, at the OSFL AGM

4 years ago, my friend Amy and I were doing an early morning soup run for the homeless around Oxford. We got chatting and she mentioned that she wanted to get a pro-life society running at the university and, in my naïve keenness, I offered any assistance she might need. And thus we found our first President and Secretary – the beginnings of Oxford Students for Life, the planting of the seeds of life! From the many conversations that we went on to have and the grand plans we discussed, I couldn’t imagine that OSFL would be where it is today.

We have gone from a mailing list of just 50, comprising mainly our friends as we hadn’t yet launched the society publicly, to a mailing list of over 600 names (I definitely don’t have that many friends!). From our initial trepidation faced with the opposition of governing bodies such as OUSU, we have gone on to build a great relationship with their Student Parent and Carers Officer. We’re so proud to have a number of great supporters who have shown such willingness to defend OSFL and the pro-life cause, as even the past week has shown, when with only a couple of hours notice a large group turned up to vote against an OUSU motion affiliating themselves with Abortion Rights.

This year, the society has held its first ever debate on assisted suicide and, with a very distinguished panel of professors and doctors, it was a great success! We have run another pro-life feminism week, hosting via Skype all the way from Texas the incredibly insightful and entertaining New Wave Feminists, and gained much important information in our Student Parent Hackathon which we are in the process of using to lobby colleges so that they improve their facilities for student parents. This year, a particular focus has been on equipping our supporters so that we are able to effectively communicate the pro-life message through our friendships and conversations. We welcomed back OSFL founding member Greg Jackson for two great apologetics workshops on the beginning and end of life, leaving us all far more confident to broach the topics in conversation with friends. The focus on community and our own supporters continued to grow through our brilliant college reps, as well as through termly socials, which culminated on a punt at the start of 7th. It has been so encouraging to meet so many people eager to promote the value of human life.

I would like to introduce now our newly elected committee members before Jo says some very important thank you’s. This committee is entirely new and so we are particularly looking forward to all of the new experience and enthusiasm that they will bring to OSFL. We are very excited to welcome Georgia Clarke and Ben Conroy as our new co-Presidents. We have every confidence that they will lead OSFL from strength to strength, along with Liesje Wilkinson, Henry Drysdale, and Anna Branford who make up the rest of the committee. Thank you all of you for taking up the baton and for joining us in this work. We can’t wait to see what you have planned and will always be there to offer support!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a few thank you’s are in order. Firstly to Spud, our dear senior member and biggest fan (he even got us mentioned in a book! The name of OSFL is in print!): thank you for your encouragement and support. To Meg, our poster-maker; to Isabelle, for printing all of those posters and sending them round – you have been an excellent head college rep; to Molly, our blog editor-extraordinaire; to Catherine, for booking many a room; Nathan, our brilliant debate chair; to our college reps, without whom we would not be able to reach so many people; to Toby, Sam, and anyone who has ever liked or shared one of our posts, who has invited friends to our events or come along themselves (special mention to Dane with his 100% attendance record!); our thanks too to the Alliance of Pro-life Students for the support that they give to all pro-life societies and all the great work that they do ensuring the establishing and long running of the best societies around!

And last but not least, I must thank those I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year. Thank you to Josh and Lucia, our medics in residence. Not only have you brought with you the authority and experience of your studies but, with quiet diligence and a heroic willingness to attend 7am meetings, you have helped build up OSFL this year and for that, I am so grateful.

It has been a privilege to be involved with this society during my time at Oxford. Though I may have spent more time planning OSFL events than reading Baudelaire, I do not regret it and would do it again. I can tell the new committee that you are about to take the reigns of the most important society at the university and, though you may never know it, you may help save a life in the process. What a thing to be a part of! The other night at our end of year committee dinner, we were speaking of Wilberforce and the making of history – well, friends, OSFL is making history!

Here’s to the future of OSFL – it’s going to be a bright one!

Professor John Wyatt – 5 things we learnt

Last week OSFL hosted Professor John Wyatt, a professor of ethics and perinatology at UCL, who worked for more than 20 years as a consultant neonatologist at University College Hospital. The talk was full of fascinating insights from a career spent caring for newborns as young as 22 weeks, and the minefield of ethical dilemmas that naturally occur when dealing with such fragile human life. Here are five things we learnt from his talk:

1) Neonatology is a high tech world and the technology is always improving.

It is incredible to see how many preterm newborns are surviving from as young as 23 weeks

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and that of those who do survive, a very large proportion suffer little or no impairment. The study below shows that in 2006 90% of babies born at 26 weeks suffered no impairment later in life.

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2) The prediction about a future “quality of life” is often highly inaccurate and subjective.

The very concept of a ‘quality of life’ is entirely subjective and so judgments will tend to reflect the prejudices and presuppositions of doctors and parents. The idea also assumes a form of biological determinism which is not supported by the evidence, and so the concept of a single variable called ‘quality of life’ is incoherent. Any one life has multiple dimensions of experience that are impossible to quantify and summarize with a single number, such as motor function, sensory function, cognitive function, creative abilities, relational experiences and family bonds, social resources, mood and affective experiences, and many others besides.

One study asked a whole range of disabled adolescents to rate the value of their lives, then they asked the parents to rate the value of their disabled adolescents’ lives, and finally they asked the pediatricians to do the same. The research showed that the disabled people put the value of their lives the highest, the parents put it somewhere in the middle, and the pediatricians put it the lowest.

Clinicians tend to assume that a biological impairment such as impaired neuromotor function translates automatically into a loss of well-being or life-satisfaction. As a result they tend to be blinded to the effects of social, economic and political factors in the lives of disabled children and adults. The problems of living and coping with disability may be as much a consequence of poor social attitudes and the lack of aids, resources and support, as the medical impairment itself.

3) Everybody is coming from somewhere

When discussing these highly complex ethical questions, it is important to bear in mind that no one approaches the question from an entirely neutral perspective, but that everyone is coming from somewhere.

This is particularly important with respect to the relationship between parents and healthcare professionals. The ideal is that the relationship is seen as “expert-expert”, based on the mutual respect for the differing expertise of the parties. Healthcare professionals of course bring expertise on the level of technical proficiency, but should also make sure to  include humanity, compassion, wisdom, and ethical integrity.

4) A way to help with difficult decisions about whether or not to withdraw life support: balance the benefits and burdens of treatment

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It is painfully difficult making decisions about when it is appropriate to withdraw life support from a newborn, but the most helpful way to look at it is to balance the benefits and the burdens of the treatment. As soon as the burdens outweigh the benefits, the treatment becomes abusive and there is a legitimate reason to withdraw them.

We must also bear in mind the key ethical distinction between withdrawing treatment and euthanasia: intention. Withdrawing treatment does not have the intention of death, whereas euthanasia does. Intentions matter in a moral universe, and are central to the legal analysis of actions, so should be carefully considered in the ethical implications of actions.

5) Neonatal care is a way of saying to these tiny little beings: “it’s good that you exist, it’s good that you’re in the world”.

Caring for these vulnerable newborns is a profound and rewarding experience. Even when intensive support is withdrawn, it is vital that care continues, in the form of food and fluids, pain relief, and tender loving care.

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Allowing a baby to die at peace, with symptoms controlled and in his or her parents’ arms, can be as much a triumph of neonatal care as when the child recovers and goes home.

If you would like to read more about Professor John Wyatt and his work as a neonatologist, consider buying his book, Matters of Life and Death.

A Ghost of a Chance? Turning all Feminists into Pro-Life Feminists


In 2014-2015, I somehow ended up chairing a college gender equality society. In doing so, I spent a year as a ‘closeted’ pro-life feminist – who’d only come to that position after taking up the role – amongst a group of very smart, idealistic, and compassionate pro-choice feminists.

During fresher’s week that year, I tried doing what I thought would be the most important part of the job – trying to win people who disagreed with me over to the feminist cause. One thing I noticed quickly was that at lot of ‘gotcha’ objections had something in common: “So if you’re interested in ‘equality’, why don’t you do anything about men’s rights?” (We have done at least one event on this a year actually!) ‘Why don’t you do events on the Middle East?” (We just did one.) ‘”Why are all you western feminists being culturally imperialist doing events on the middle-east in a pitying superior way without talking to women from the Middle East? (Our event on Iran consisted of a screening of Persepolis followed by a talk by an Iranian academic!).

The point of all this, is a general one: if you’re part of a movement that people have negative impressions of, these impressions can be quite difficult to dispel. People accuse you of things without checking that you’ve actually done them. A portion of those people will probably continue to believe that you are guilty of these things, even if you tell them they’re wrong. Winning them over can be a bit like convincing someone ghosts exists if they think you’re a crazy guy who believes in ghosts. ‘But there is a ghost in my house actually’ doesn’t cut it. You pretty much have to physically drag them over to the ghost. Seeing might not even be enough. Sometimes it feels like you have to do the equivalent of actually introducing them to, and making them shake hands with the ghost to get them to really believe you. It’s not easy.

This is sometimes what it’s like trying to convince people feminism isn’t some hypocritical, self-centred movement for rich western women. It’s also what it can be like for pro-life feminists trying to win over our pro-choice counter parts – there are some pretty common ideas that people will believe about you without necessarily having any good reason to do so: that you are motivated by paternalistic concerns and don’t trust women to be make their own decisions, that you are not genuine and just cynically using the feminist label as a talking point etc.

If you want to look for pro-life feminist arguments, or examples of pro-life feminist organisations they’re a google search away.

So I’d like to focus on something more specific. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to win over pro-choice feminists like the people I was on the committee with: how to win back the mainstream feminist movement and win over pro-choice feminists given that trying to do so can often be much like telling a ghost doubter you’ve seen a ghost.* Sometimes, because of the ghost doubter phenomenon, great points just aren’t convincing. Here are some ideas and tactics I think could help counter that.

1) Use pro-choice sources to back up your arguments. If you are talking about how the aftermath of abortion can often be difficult for women, or how women are sometimes pressured into abortions by male partners, and workplaces that expect women’s bodies to accommodate them rather than the other way around, try to start off by using pro-choice resources like 1-in-3 (a pro-choice website where women post their abortion stories anonymously). Pro-life websites aren’t credible sources here – it’s like backing up your claim about the ghost using testimony from the strange kid at school who set up a ‘ghost appreciation society’. Of course, pro-choice sources can take you only so far, but if you aren’t using a pro-choice source, try to use a neutral one instead, such as the NHS or Wikipedia, even if they gloss over some of the details.

2) Speak their ‘language’ (equal rights, discrimination, ableism, prejudice, dehumanisation!). The pro-choice stance of saying that some human’s rights are dependent on their value to other people, or their physical and mental capacities is not usual feminist rhetoric! Emphasise the fact that a pro-life culture requires a huge cultural shift, a revolution. You don’t want to return to the 1950s – like them you want a new, better world. Make sure they know this. This isn’t a culture war between them and you – you share a lot of values.

3) Emphasising the women’s welfare is important BUT the crucial issue at stake is that this is a human rights issue for humans who aren’t born yet. The worst thing about abortion is that it kills. It is awful that some (not all) women regret abortions they were pressured into, or got when they thought they had no other options, but the reason abortion is wrong, is not that women regret it or are hurt by it – make this very clear. I have been at a debate on abortion where a very large chunk of the Q&A was about the number of women who regret abortions. One person said ‘shouldn’t women be allowed to make their own mistakes even if they regret them’. This was a reasonable reaction because from his point of view, abortion is not the killing of a human being like us. Unless you bring it back to that to the fact that this is a human rights abuse, it will look a little like you are just saying ‘we need to protect all these poor silly women from themselves’. Which is of course not what you are saying.

4) Women are moral agents who are just as capable of making decisions as men. Make sure they know that you know that! Be careful about making general statements that focus too much on women who are victims or who are hurt, without going into the structures that put them into those situations or bringing up any suggestions as to how to help them – that is what they expect you to do…Because of background assumptions to the contrary, you really want to show that you know these are rational adults who are placed in difficult situations (except when they aren’t adults) – not little girls who are too silly to understand what’s at stake.

5) Acknowledge that there are cases where being pregnant is incredibly tough, and if women don’t get an abortion they will be making sacrifices to continue with the pregnancy and this is unfair. You don’t need to minimise the real suffering carrying pregnancies to term can sometimes involve to make your point. If you are talking to someone who is well versed in pro-choice feminism, and you never address this, you may not really deal with their main concern and you might end up talking past each other. If you do bring it up, talking about ways in which some of these unfair structures (like say the lack of support for student parents) can be changed is a great way to find common ground.

6) Don’t let them get away with saying opposing late term abortions, or ‘abortion on demand’ is misogynistic or to do with a mistrust in women, a ‘belief that women will just get abortions like sandwiches.’ Just say that women get late term abortions because they end up in situations that are genuinely difficult (and give examples or think of reasons, as usual using neutral or pro-choice resources when possible). They happen and we all know they do. But this is still a human rights abuse.

7) Go to feminist events (if you have the time). Don’t say you care. Prove it to them.

8) Acknowledge mistakes. I find that if you actually get caught out on making a mistake and acknowledge it, it makes people much more likely to do the same to you. Besides, they might have ghosts of their own to show you.

*By the way this is merely an analogy, I don’t believe in ghosts, or mean that people who are the ghost doubters in this analogy are irrational or silly.


Ciara O’Rourke is a Philosophy student at Trinity College Dublin where she was a Gender Equality Society committee member for two years (2013-2015)



Pro-Life and Conservative

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

I have always been cautious about giving political allegiances or parties the same weight as moral issues: my moral beliefs come before my political stances. Nevertheless, morality is a political issue. The rightness or wrongness of particular actions occurs within society, and so our actions are necessarily both moral and political. If we value our morality at all, it will guide and impact upon the political sides of our lives. Being pro-life is not a party political issue, and does not even belong on any particular part of the traditional left-right political spectrum. But my ‘small-c’ political conservatism informs, and is informed by, my pro-life stance.

Conservatives generally want people to have a chance in life, what the Australians might call a “fair go”. This is the basis of why most conservatives have an instinctive liking for the market: everyone has a chance to succeed; the best ideas, if things work properly, will produce the best results. There is no “fair go” for the little ones aborted before they are born. The ‘terminated’ are never given a chance in life. They’re not even given a chance to breathe. It can sound silly, but how many great economists, great academics, great businesspeople, great sportspeople have been killed in abortion clinics? They haven’t been given their chance, which violates so many conservative principles.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” in Article 3. It also says, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” These are the ground rules that govern conservative rhetoric, which emphasises liberty and security for all. It seems obvious to me that this extends to the person inside the womb. What are the pre-born if not human? They have their human DNA in its completeness, they are growing, and their dependence on their mother should make us more, not less, compassionate towards them. The unborn child is a ‘person’, as even Hillary Clinton admitted recently, and so has the right to life, liberty, and security as all other persons.

The fight for every person to be equal before the law is a conservative fight: conservatism rails against the disregard for the individual, against the overwhelming power of the state, against the morphing of the individual into one greater collective. The individual person is the most important thing to a conservative; working together with other people, self-sacrificing for others, and fundamentally being recognised as an individual with their own – not just collective – inalienable rights. We must be liberal in giving these rights, and acknowledge that even an individual person whom we cannot see directly (though we can interact with them) has these rights.

Women, sadly, have many pressures to kill their children in the womb. Conservative values instinctively fight for measures to prevent these pressures: building strong family bonds; creating a strong society based on the family rather than the overarching state; creating local support structures; reducing dependence on the state (the same state that will give them an abortion if they ask for it). The conservative looks to the local community, guided by minimal but strong laws, to create environments where motherhood is valued. Creating multiple local environments, where life is respected and valued, requires strong community bonds based on positive ideals rather than state-imposed edicts or class war. Conservatives naturally gravitate towards this ideal.

End of life care is a major pro-life issue that I feel is often overtaken in favour of abortion, but both have conservative aspects. End of life care is where the battle really is: this is where the culture of death is attacking now, and we must be ready to fight it. On this front, too, my small-c conservatism calls for a pro-life attitude: respect the individual, care for them, acknowledge their rights. Even if we talk dispassionately about market forces, where else do we find such a repository of wisdom than the elderly? Where else are caring skills able to flourish more than caring for the sick and the old? These people, with their innate value (as well as their opportunities and mines of valuable thoughts), cannot just be extinguished in the name of ‘progress’ in our throw-away society.

I was asked to write a short article about being pro-life and conservative. I hope this has explained something of how having conservative values and being pro-life go hand in glove. But I know – and am glad – that people from many different political persuasions are pro-life. Ultimately, I am pro-life because I believe in the inherent value of all human life from conception to natural death. That requires engagement in politics, but goes beyond political allegiance.

John Coverdale took his Ecclesiastical History degree at the University of Oxford in 2013, having studied at Campion Hall. He currently works in the heritage sector.


Pro-Life and Labour

Another article in our series “Pro-Life and Political”, in which several writers will explain how their different political opinions shape their pro-life views.

These days, it is becoming increasingly rare to be pro-life and a Labour Party activist. This is surprising given the commitment to human rights, which lies at the heart of socialism and its concern for the most vulnerable in society, together with its opposition to the death penalty. In his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons, during the Abortion (Amendment) Bill 1979, Dale Campbell Savours MP cited Aneurin Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’: The capacity for emotional concern for individual life is the most significant quality of a civilized human society’ .

Although the Labour Party has no plans to change abortion law, it is still expected that people who wish to progress in the Labour Party are pro-choice. Indeed, the Labour Party group set up to encourage women to stand as parliamentary candidates, Emily’s List, stipulates that women who put themselves forward support a woman’s right to choose.

Over recent years, abortion amendments have focused on time limits, but it’s important that abortion is seen in a much broader context, where women make decisions based on their housing , employment rights, and healthcare.

It is a great shame that so many in the Labour Party too readily dismiss the pro-life cause, since there is enormous potential to make common cause on a wide range of issues, which would benefit women faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

Labour has long campaigned for more affordable housing. One commitment that could be made would be to give women in poverty, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a high priority for housing. This would certainly be a controversial move, given the belief of some – though unsupported by evidence – that some women only get pregnant to get a Council flat. It is also vital to provide supported housing for young women who might struggle to look after a child on their own.

Maternity rights, maternity pay and the right of women to return to work after having a baby have gradually improved since the 1990s, thanks to the Employment Relations Act which Labour introduced in 1999, and pressure from the EU. Pay and benefits for working mothers means that women no longer have to fear the loss of their livelihood when they have a baby. Children’s Centres were another ambitious but highly successful Labour Party initiative during the first two Labour terms in government after 1997. These were built on the belief that support in the early years of a child’s life are the most important for improving every child’s life chances.

Under Labour, Child Benefit rose significantly. Sadly it is now being cut back by the Conservative Government and limited to the first two children in a family. For many families on a tight budget and high housing costs, the pressure of an unplanned third pregnancy might tempt some couples to consider an abortion. The number of larger families is actually not very high in the UK. Financial support is important for all children, regardless of where they come in the family.

Insecurity of employment and housing bedevil British society today and place enormous pressure on relationships. Campaigning for more affordable and secure housing and for employment rights are both essential for helping families stay together as well as being longstanding planks of Labour Party policy. Women (and it is almost always women) who are left without either the emotional of financial support of their child’s father face a double blow. Not only are they reliant on a single income, often part-time, they are also unable to find suitable housing in many parts of the country since two incomes are needed to pay the rent. My own experience as a city councillor in Oxford has shown me that poor women, who are left to bring up children on their own, are the people who suffer most from cuts in benefits and public services.

The Labour Party has an excellent record in providing support for pregnant women and those with children. It can and should work together with its pro-life members to create a society where support for women with unplanned pregnancies is so good that abortion would very rarely ever be the choice a woman would want to make.

Mary Clarkson has been a Labour City Councillor in Oxford for the past 18 years and is a former student at the University of Oxford, having read English at St John’s.

Understanding an Alliance: Part 3

White House


IV. From the Jaws of Victory

The pro-life cause won a significant victory in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989). The court was answering the question about how comprehensive Roe v. Wade’s ban on abortion legislation was. Since the 1980s, in tension with Roe, some states had been limiting the use of government funds, facilities, and employees to perform or assist with abortions. Webster allowed for states to legislate in this area, effectively allowing states to restrict abortion. But it did not seek to address the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. For Scalia, the decision did not go far enough: he wrote an independent concurrence admonishing the court for not handling that issue outright, arguing it would only arise again.

He was right. In 1992 came Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The case involved a challenge to several different restrictions the state of Pennsylvania had placed on abortion: a twenty-four hour waiting period, provision of information about alternatives to abortion, and requiring a married woman seeking an abortion to notify her husband. Only two judges, Blackmun and Stevens, wanted to strike these restrictions down entirely, showing how far the court had improved since 1973. Rehnquist and White, the two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, wanted to uphold the restrictions, as did Scalia and Thomas. They were ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving states free to regulate or ban abortion as they saw fit. This left O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy. There was a great hope that all three would vote down Roe v Wade—O’Connor had famously said that the reasoning behind Roe was “on a collision course with itself.” The pro-life cause seemed on the verge of a triumph.

Despite these hopes, O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy developed a different position. Roe would stand. But the three set aside the actual argument of Roe. Instead, they invoked the doctrine of stare decisis—the policy of adhering to judicial precedent—and argued that it compelled them to affirm Roe, whether or not the actual argument of Roe was mistaken. It was a curious argument, as many times in the history of the court, previous decisions that had been deemed incorrect were overruled.

The majority further argued that in light of the political controversy surrounding Roe v Wade, if the court were to “overrule under fire” it would damage “the people’s acceptance” of the “Court’s legitimacy.” The majority decided that abortion could be regulated as long as regulations did not place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. In practice, states could not prohibit early-term abortions. In the end, the majority seemed most concerned with forming a political compromise that could resolve the abortion issue once and for all.

Scalia, for his part, mocked this line of reasoning. Comparing Casey to the Dred Scott decision that tried to resolve the slavery debate by finding a constitutional right to slavery, he wrote:

It is no more realistic for us in this case…to think that an issue of the sort they both involved–an issue involving life and death, freedom and subjugation–can be “speedily and finally settled” by the Supreme Court, as President James Buchanan in his inaugural address said the issue of slavery in the territories would be.

The pro-life cause came within a hair’s breath of victory in 1992, but there was no breakthrough. Moreover, 1992 saw the election of the first President dedicated to keeping abortion legal: Bill Clinton. By then, the Democratic party had already defined itself as a pro-choice party. The 1992 Democratic Convention denied the Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert P. Casey—the same Casey who was the defendant in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—the chance to speak at the Convention.

As President, Clinton wanted to choose pro-abortion Supreme Court judges. This consideration was therefore a top priority for his selection team. The 1993 hunt for a replacement for White led to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but her appointment hit a stumbling block when the vetting committee found she had criticized Roe v. Wade. When it was revealed that she still supported a right to abortion, just on different theoretical grounds, they were relieved and went ahead with her appointment.


V. Casey’s Silver Lining

At the present moment, the result of the campaign to change the court has reached a drawn-out stalemate. Two camps are firmly entrenched, with one or two “swing voters.” George W. Bush and Barack Obama each chose two judges to the Supreme Court, filling vacancies for the both conservative and liberal camps. Since 1992, the court has only ruled twice on abortion, dealing with bans on partial-birth abortion. In Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), a narrow majority (5-4) struck down the ban as violating Roe v. Wade, but in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) another narrow majority (5-4) upheld a different federal law banning partial-birth abortion.

Nevertheless, Casey was not a total defeat. O’Connor, Souter, and Kennedy were sympathetic to conservative jurisprudence: the Supreme Court’s authority had limits. Hence, they only struck down the regulation on abortion that required spousal notification. Casey, therefore, left a considerable gap for states to regulate abortion, provided laws did not place an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion. The pro-life movement has poured into the breach, advancing in state legislatures the pro-life legislation that was undone in 1973. They have made tremendous gains since 1992:

  • The number of states with parental involvement laws has increased from 20 to 38.
  • The number of states with informed consent laws has increased from 18 to 33.
  • The number of states with abortion clinic regulations increased from 21 to 30.
  • 21 States have provisions to give women information about the availability of ultrasound services prior to abortion. Six of these states require an ultrasound for each abortion require the abortion provider to offer the opportunity to view the image.

These laws, as well as public funding restrictions, parental involvement laws, and properly designed informed consent laws all have helped reduce US abortion rates to a level not seen since the court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.

But these gains are fragile. They are contingent on the composition of the Supreme Court. The American pro-life movement is acutely aware that, with a single decision from the Supreme Court, all these gains can vanish overnight—as they did in 1973. And another such decision may be drawing near.

In 2013, Texas passed a law that requires physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and sets the health and safety standards for abortion clinics at the same level as those for an ambulatory surgical center. Because most abortion clinics do not meet these standards, it is possible that 34 out of 40 abortion clinics in Texas may close. Defenders of abortion have challenged this law in court, and it has now made its way to the very top of the judicial system. On March 2nd 2016, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Bearing in mind the “undue burden” standard of Planned Parenthood v Casey, the court will consider to what extent laws that regulate abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health place an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion. This is the first time the Supreme Court has heard a case concerning abortion in a decade. Moreover, with the passing of Antonin Scalia, it is at a moment the balance of the court may tilt decisively against the pro-life cause. Much depends on who is elected in November.


At the end of his 2008 letter, John Haldane wrote that, “existing political alignments offer no easy home” for pro-lifers. He is indeed correct: one should never declare that the victory of one political party is a victory for the pro-life movement. Republican Presidents have a mixed record of appointing judges to the Supreme Court have resisted a supposed constitutional right to abortion—since 1980, only four out of seven have done so decisively. But Democratic Presidents have a perfect record. They have always picked pro-abortion candidates.

It is thanks to Republican Presidents that the present gains have been made. But they are not permanent. When the Supreme Court has lost its most vocal critic of a constitutional right to abortion, and the Republican Party may very well nominate a pro-abortion candidate for President, pro-lifers may look nostalgically back on the days when at least one political party gave them and their cause a fair hearing, and a chance to change the composition of the Supreme Court. The battle to overturn Roe v. Wade will continue—but friendly politicians and judges may grow fewer.


Nathan Pinkoski is a DPhil candidate in Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford



Understanding an Alliance: Part 2

White House

II. The Plan to Overturn Roe v. Wade

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers needed a new strategy. First, the pro-life movement tried to pass a human life amendment to the US Constitution, which would have protected human life from conception until natural death. Over the next decade, the multiple attempts to propose this amendment in Congress failed to reach formal debate. This strategy achieved little, so pro-lifers changed their tack, deciding to strike at the heart of the problem. The new goal was to overturn Roe v. Wade directly. The means would be to change the composition of the Supreme Court. After all, to overturn Roe, all one needed was five out of nine judges.

This aligned with the plans of conservatives. Frustrated by judicial activism that only advanced liberal policies, conservatives were searching for more restrained judges to appoint to the court. Their most powerful intellectual allies were constitutional originalists. Both originalists and pro-lifers began to focus on changing the composition of the Supreme Court. But they faced a difficult battle. A 7-2 majority had decided Roe v. Wade. To overturn it, at least three judges needed to be replaced.

By adopting this strategy, pro-lifers knew they were setting themselves up for a long, inter-generational struggle, for three reasons. First, Supreme Court appointments are for life. To change the composition of the court, one has to wait for judges to retire or die. Consequently, few Presidents ever get to choose more than one or two judges—and they would have to be the right judges. But that raises the second issue: one needs a President sympathetic to the pro-life cause. So to change the court, one would need the right President as well as an opportune vacancy. Third, the US Senate must confirm the President’s appointments to the Supreme Court by a simple majority. If no majority is reached, the President has to appoint someone different. So the Senate would have to be favourable to the President’s choice as well. These three forces could hardly align more than once or twice a decade. It was therefore, a strategy that depended on finding good judges, supporting good politicians, and good luck.


III. The Battle for the Supreme Court

In 1980, the conservatives gained the upper hand. They entered the White House with Ronald Reagan, who commanded an energetic and strongly conservative administration. But pro-lifers and originalists had yet to make their case for changing the composition of the court. In 1981, when a vacancy opened up, Ronald Reagan made his first pick for the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. Reagan was focused on fulfilling a campaign promise to nominate a woman to the court, and was less concerned about scrutinizing O’Connor on conservative jurisprudence or on abortion. She was considered generally conservative and aspiring for a more restrained, less activist Supreme Court, but was ambiguous on the subject of abortion. Pro-lifers were somewhat disappointed, but hopeful that she would be on their side.

In 1986, Reagan had another chance. Warren Burger, who had voted for Roe v. Wade, resigned as chief justice. This time, the originalist and pro-life alliance had picked up political influence. It had a strong advocate within the White House, in the person of Attorney General Edwin Meese. Meese advised Reagan to move William Rehnquist, who had written a forceful dissent to Roe v. Wade, to Chief Justice, leaving a vacancy for associate justice. To replace him, Meese suggested Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, the most prominent originalist judges in the country. Reagan chose Scalia. The Democrats in the Senate decided to fight the decision to move Rehnquist, but they lost 65-33. Having tried to stop Rehnquist and failed, the Democrats had no political capital to thwart Scalia, and his appointment was confirmed unanimously.

In 1987, another seat opened up. This time, Reagan decided to choose Robert Bork. But liberals were gathering a fight. They were anxious that with Bork on the court, their liberal majority would be decisively weakened. They decided to block him. In fact, “block” is something of an understatement. A more appropriate term is “carpet-bomb.” Through an impressive national mobilization, the “Block Bork” campaign set out to destroy Bork and his reputation.

On July 1st Reagan announced Bork as his nominee. Forty-five minutes later, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy took the floor, declaiming:

‘Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens…’

It was blatant slander—not a single line was an accurate representation of Bork’s judicial philosophy. But as a way to organize opposition, it worked. Senators swore to filibuster the appointment if Bork did not accept Roe v. Wade as law. Labour unions, women’s groups, bar associations, civil liberty groups, many of which had hitherto kept themselves neutral over court nominations, spoke out against Bork. Across the country, public protests were organized. On the first day of the Senate’s hearing, Gregory Peck narrated a nation-wide television advertisement against Bork. Bork was defeated handily in the Senate, 58-42. So ferocious, yet so successful, was the savaging of Bork’s reputation that a neologism emerged, “to Bork,” now featured in the OED:

To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way.

Reagan and Meese were infuriated by the whole affair, but they knew they were beaten. The White House at the time was reeling from the Iran-Contra scandal, and it was deemed expedient to pick a moderate conservative who would be confirmed. They picked Anthony M. Kennedy. He was asked whether he supported a constitutional right to privacy—in light of Roe, code for “a right to abortion.” He did. The Senate confirmed him without incident.

Following Reagan as President, George H.W. Bush had the opportunity to appoint to replace two justices who supported Roe v. Wade with two who did not. He chose David Souter and Clarence Thomas. In the first case, Bush opted for an uncontroversial pick—Souter’s record on contentious topics was vague. In the second case, Bush opted for a well-known conservative. It provoked a vicious nomination battle, but the Senate confirmed him 52-48. With five justices appointed between them, Reagan and Bush had succeeded in changing the composition of the court and appointing a majority. But would this majority take down Roe v. Wade?


Nathan Pinkoski is a DPhil candidate in Political Philosophy at the University of Oxford