Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

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.

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.


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.


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.


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?


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:


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.


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.



  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 woman, 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.


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.)


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.


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.


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!


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)