Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: February, 2014

OSFL Recap: “What Can You Do to be Pro-Life?”

As the pro-life movement around the world gathers momentum, it’s become increasingly important for pro-lifers to step out into the public sphere and live openly as advocates for the protection of life. In light of this, on Tuesday, members of the OSFL committee and guest speakers Stephen Barrie and Mark Bhagwandin formed a panel to discuss, and give our members advice on, practical ways to be pro-life.

Molly Gurdon, president of OSFL, opened the evening by pointing to recent events in the news – the legalization of child euthanasia in Belgium, the failure of the Estrela Report in the European Parliament, the controversy in the UK over sex-selective abortion, and the impending assisted suicide bill facing Parliament – and emphasized knowledge as the cornerstone of effective advocacy. One of the most important ways to be actively pro-life, she argued, is to be up to date on life issues, and to use social media to spread information and connect with other pro-lifers. Jo Jackson, OSFL secretary, continued the conversation by informing members about the different grassroots pro-life organizations in the UK; from charities to lobbies, there are a wide variety of groups working for the pro-life cause. Among these is the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, about which Stephen Barrie spoke as he discussed ways to be pro-life in the world of education. Well-educated pro-lifers, he urged, can make a big difference in public opinion simply by promoting and explaining the facts and arguments on both sides of the debate in a clear and honest way. Alisha Gabriel, OSFL publicity officer, spoke on interpersonal pro-life advocacy; being willing to discuss controversial topics in friendly environments, and arguing for the truth with confidence and compassion, helps debunk negative stereotypes of the pro-life movement. Mark Bhagwandin, of LIFE, ended the series by urging pro-lifers not simply to defend their views, but also to have the courage to share them in the media and in unsympathetic circles.

Dan Hitchens, OSFL treasurer and the panel moderator, rounded off the discussion with a quick-fire question to each speaker: in ten minutes, what can each of us do to be actively pro-life? Answers ranged from editing Wikipedia articles on life issues (to be fact-based and neutral) and responding to relevant articles to asking friends for thoughts on life issues, provoking others to consider their own positions, donating to pro-life organizations, and scouring the news for relevant current events. The night concluded with a wine and cheese reception (as is now OSFL tradition), which saw the sale of a few more OSFL t-shirts and a lot of lively conversation. Thank you again to everyone who came, the night was a great success!

As promised, here’s a list of the resources we mentioned at the talk:

LIFE: http://www.lifecharity.org.uk/home/?fn=

‪SPUC: ‬http://www.lifecharity.org.uk/home/?fn= ,  ‬https://www.spuc.org.uk/education/charities/

‪Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative: ‬http://cardinalwinningprolifeinitiative.wordpress.com/

‪40 Days for Life: ‬http://40daysforlife.com/

‪March for Life UK: ‬https://www.facebook.com/events/454341897952512/457181007668601/?notif_t=event_mall_reply

‪Project Truth: https://en-gb.facebook.com/projecttruthscotland ‬http://spucscotland.org/project-truth/

‪Alliance of Pro-life Students: ‬http://www.allianceofprolifestudents.org.uk/

‪Oxford Students for Life: ‬https://studentsforlifeoxford.wordpress.com/ ‬https://www.facebook.com/oxfordstudentsforlife

‪Care Not Killing: ‬http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/

‪Not Dead Yet: ‬http://www.notdeadyetuk.org/

‪Living and Dying Well: ‬http://www.livinganddyingwell.org.uk/

(Please note – with the exception of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students [and of course ourselves], OSFL is neither officially affiliated with nor officially endorses any of the organizations listed above)


Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 4: Hans and Sophie Scholl

On this day in 1943, two extraordinary people were executed for treason against the Nazis. Hans Scholl was 24, his sister Sophie 21. They were extraordinary people even regardless of their role in history. Hans, a natural leader, bowled over practically everyone by sheer force of personality; his Gestapo interrogator thought this young traitor was the most intellectually brilliant person he had ever met. Sophie, straight-talking and often profound, could be the life of the party at one moment, and at the next retreat into a deep, almost mystical inner life. Both were scarily intelligent and utterly uncompromising.

It would be possible to argue that the Scholls and the rest of the White Rose movement achieved nothing, that their campaign should be classed with the Charge of the Light Brigade as a splendid but pitiable failure. Weren’t they, you might ask, too reckless from the beginning, daubing the streets of Munich with anti-Hitler slogans? Wasn’t it, as Sophie seems to have admitted herself, a ‘stupid mistake’ to distribute their leaflets so openly, scattering them in the University hall and so getting caught? And weren’t those leaflets, sent all over southern Germany, quite strange anyway, with their lengthy quotations from Lao Tzu and Schiller and their apocalyptic rhetoric? Wasn’t it, in fact, just what you would expect from a group of excitable and rather pretentious students?

This much has to be conceded – the members of the White Rose were not really very politically-minded. Willi Graf preferred singing in the Bach Choral Society to being a subversive activist. Kurt Huber spent the last weeks before his execution desperately trying to complete his big book on Leibniz. What really mattered to them was art, literature, philosophy, religion, and those values which were so colossally important the Nazis could not even see them.

But that was their strength: they saw themselves as part of a whole civilization and its principles – at the heart of them, the respect for human life. One of the great turning-points for Hans and Sophie came in 1941, when the Bishop of Münster, the fearless Count Clemens von Galen, used a sermon to denounce the Nazis’ euthanasia programme. Hitler had explained that this was a kind, humane project: only the most wretched individuals, carefully selected by an expert panel of doctors, would be ‘granted release by euthanasia’. Later, the Ministry of Propaganda sponsored a popular TV drama, in which a beautiful young woman with multiple sclerosis pleads to be allowed an assisted suicide. Like the Scholls, von Galen saw what was really at stake. Some slopes, the bishop told his listeners, really are slippery:

Once it becomes permissible…to put to death ‘unproductive’ human beings, then we are all of us open to being murdered when we, too, are old and feeble and no longer productive… If such things are permitted, then none of us is safe in our lives.

Though von Galen was too popular a figure for the Nazis to touch, they kept his words out of the press. But people duplicated the sermon and mailed it around. And this example of disseminating anti-Nazi material set Hans thinking. He read and reread his copy of the sermon and was heard to muse aloud: ‘One definitely ought to have a duplicating machine of one’s own.’ That duplicating machine, in the end, cost Hans his life.

Von Galen vividly confirmed the Scholls’ sense of ‘the massive Nazi assault on the decencies and traditions of the civilization they knew’, as one excellent biography puts it. Working as an army medic, Hans was constantly among the wounded and suffering; he knew that they should not be classed as useless. So did his fellow White Rose member Christopher Probst, also a medic. Christopher’s sister Angelika recalled his ‘outrage’ over the euthanasia programme: ‘No one, he said, can know what goes on in the soul of a mentally afflicted person. No one can know what secret inner ripening can come from suffering. Every individual’s life is priceless.’

In their Hitler Youth days, before their disillusionment, Hans and Sophie would have sung songs with lines like:

The old must perish,
The weak must decay.

But they grew up into a better philosophy, one which valued every human life, however weak and defenceless. Hans and Sophie, with the rest of the White Rose movement, lived by high ideals. They knew they could not bring down the whole regime. They made a huge impact, even so, and a sceptic who called their efforts a romantic failure would simply be wrong. The Scholls delivered a real blow to Nazi self-confidence, and after their deaths the leaflets were reproduced and distributed in their millions all over Europe. To the people of Germany, to exiles abroad, to prisoners in concentration camps, it was an awakening of hope to hear the news about these young people in Munich. And their example endures. Sophie has nearly 200 German schools named after her.

All that is true; but their achievement cannot be summed up by listing its practical results. It was something more, something hard to express, though the words of Geoffrey Hill (speaking about the Elizabethan martyrs) come close: ‘The very fact that they lived ennobles the human race, which is so often ignoble.’ The Scholls fought against huge odds, not for victory, but because fighting was the only thing worth doing. Hans was motivated less by the hope of effecting change than by a haunting thought about the verdict of future generations: ‘We will be standing empty-handed,’ he warned. ‘We will have no answer when we are asked: What did you do about it?’

Previously featured in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi.


PREVIEW: ‘How Can You Be Pro-Life?’, this Tuesday

In America, things are changing. Abortion rates are at their lowest since Roe v. Wade. Young Americans just keep getting more pro-life. Pro-choice campaigners find themselves backtracking. Every year, hundreds of thousands March for Life in Washington D.C.

White House

Friends in high places

‘Ah,’ you may say, ‘that’s America for you.’ But the same thing could happen here. If the controversy over sex-selective abortion shows anything, it is that, deep down, nearly all of us recognise the humanity of the unborn. Thanks to modern technology, it is becoming harder and harder for us to ignore them. But they will remain forgotten unless pro-lifers speak up.

There are also serious dangers on the horizon. Another assisted suicide Bill is coming before the House of Lords this year, and there has been little debate about what such legislation would mean. Again, anyone who believes in the value of human life should be doing something about it. But how?

That’s what we’ll be exploring on Tuesday night in Christ Church, with a panel discussion on ‘How Can You Be Pro-Life?’ We’ll be hearing from OSFL committee members, as well as two experts: the bioethicist Stephen Barrie, and Mark Bhagwandin of the charity Life. There will also be plenty of time for questions. We’ll be asking what students can do on campus and in our communities, how we can influence lawmakers, transform the culture and build our own pro-life generation. And even if you don’t want to change the world, there’s wine and cheese afterwards.

Facebook event here.


Pro-life Heroes and Heroines, No. 3: Gandhi

There was not a war in Gandhi’s country, or at least not a war with guns and bombs, tanks and drones. There was something more subtle and yet equally destructive to peace: a judgement that certain people in society are subhuman.

‘It seems to me as clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime.’ (Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: The Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi As Told in His Own Words, 165 (1958)

Gandhi unashamedly denounced the clear crime that allowed the caste system to judge the dalits, the ‘untouchables’, as an inferior class of being. Similarly, he denounced the crime of considering an unborn child, at whatever stage of development, subhuman. Gandhi recognised that violence inherent to the destruction of human life, in utero or elsewhere, is an affront to peace and an affront to the value of life. This champion of peace, who was brutally assassinated for his views, should be taken as an example, an inspiration for us to peacefully protest crimes against the unborn.

OSFL triumphs at ‘Pro-Life Student Society of the Year’ award

Cava all round at Oxford Students for Life: on Saturday night, we were named ‘Pro-Life Student Society of the Year’ by the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), at their big Annual General Meeting in London.


Molly Gurdon, OSFL President, receives the award

In their comments, the APS judges congratulated us on our range of events, especially last term’s debate (available to watch here). They even gave an honourable mention to this blog.

We are especially pleased because we were up against strong competition: the cup could just as easily have gone to, say, Cardiff University Students for Life, who have put on a series of high-quality talks and taken the Project Truth information campaign onto the streets of the city; or to the innovative Edinburgh Life Society, who do everything from the highly successful ‘Life chats’ discussion series to pro-life pub crawls.


The APS party in Parliament, November 2013

Looking around the AGM, you could not doubt that the student pro-life movement is growing fast. That has a lot to do with the excellent and frankly Herculean work of APS themselves. Pro-life societies are springing up across the country; just last week, we heard about a new one being registered at one of Britain’s biggest universities. We will be doing our best to hang onto the Society of the Year cup, of course; but you suspect the competition is about to get quite a bit more intense.