Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Tag: events

Statement from Oxford Students for Life Responding to Oxford SU’s “Right to protest, Right to choose” statement

With their latest statement, WomCam have decided to double down on their attack on free speech, while claiming that they are doing no such thing.

They claim in their statement that they “were not protesting Oxford Students for Life or their speakers’ right to free speech” and that they “were not breaking the law”.

We’ve received legal advice that WomCam were breaking the law precisely because they were denying our freedom of speech.

Under Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, the University is required “to issue and keep up to date a code of practice to be followed by all members, students and employees of the University for the organisation of meetings and other events”.

The code of practice is as follows:

“Members, students and employees of the University must conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. The University believes that a culture of free, open and robust discussion can be achieved only if all concerned avoid needlessly offensive or provocative action and language. The freedom protected by this Code of Practice is confined to the exercise of freedom of speech within the law.”

Given that the protesters shouted down the event continuously for 40 minutes, called the attendees and speakers “anti-choice bigots”, gave attendees the middle finger, and blocked the projector screen, we’re confident that they engaged in “needlessly offensive or provocative action and language” and did not “conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers.”

Considering Oxford SU’s statement that “Bodily autonomy is not up for debate”, they confirm in their statement itself that they were not acting to facilitate “open and robust discussion”.

We’ve received legal advice that had they protested outside, or even staged a walk-out, they would have been within their rights. But disrupting the event for 40 minutes in this way breached the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech. By ignoring security requests to leave the venue, they were also guilty of aggravated trespass.

WomCam of course have a right to freedom to expression. But a right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to prevent other people from speaking.

Press Release: Oxford Students for Life Expresses Sadness and Anger at Disruptive Protest by Oxford SU WomCam

Oxford Students for Life have expressed their sadness and anger at “a deliberate attempt to shut down discussion and dialogue through harassment and bullying”. The disruptive protest was organised by the Oxford SU Women’s Campaign to target OSFL’s “Abortion in Ireland” event on Wednesday 1st November at St John’s College.

Anna Branford, co-president of OSFL explains: “At the beginning of the event, I explicitly welcomed all people, whatever their views, to the talk, and emphasised that the format of the evening was such that half the time would be allotted to the two speakers – Breda O’Brien of the Irish Times and barrister Lorcan Price – and the other half would be fully open to questions.

“One minute into her presentation, a group of approximately fifteen protesters from the Oxford SU’s WomCam stood up and chanted slogans to shout down Breda and prevent her from being heard. It was impossible for the committee or security to engage in any meaningful manner with the protesters. This continued for approximately forty minutes: protesters shouted, jeered, stood in front of the projector and chanted from a pre-prepared “chant sheet” including ‘Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die’.”

OSFL secretary, Georgia Clarke, said: “the saddening reality was that we were not given any opportunity to respond to these hurtful claims, nor give any justification for our views. Instead, we were bullied into silence.”

Anna Branford went on to say: “We had attempted to create an atmosphere in which all views were welcome and everyone would have a chance to speak, but were instead met with shouting, middle fingers and vitriol. Realising that they were uninterested in talking, some of us made signs of our own. I held one that said “ I’m a woman, where is my right to speak?”, while Georgia carried one saying “Is this what dialogue looks like?

“St John’s had hired security because they knew there would be a protest of some kind. They asked the protesters to leave multiple times and were ignored. One of the security guards tried to remove one of the protesters and there was a brief altercation.

“On foot of that, the security guard called the police as they were now guilty of aggravated trespassing. Eventually, the speakers were moved into another room and the protesters were left to shout themselves out, but not before gathering outside the window of the second room and banging on the windows while continuing to shout at the people inside.”

She went on to say: “It is such a shame that the protesters never listened to what we actually had to say. Had they heard Breda O’Brien’s presentation, they would have realised just how much we do care if women die, contrary to their chanting, and they would have heard the truth about Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death. Their disruption and refusal to engage meant that we could not show them the evidence that Ireland is as safe a place to give birth as the UK.

She continued: “I was disappointed that we never managed to discuss the issue with the protesters or engage in any kind of debate with them, but I was glad that we were eventually able to continue with the event and they had ultimately failed to achieve their goal of silencing us.”

Georgia Clarke added: “The irony was that the actions of Oxford SU’s WomCam, which ought to represent women of the university, resulted in the harassment of many women present for the event, some of whom were driven to tears. As committee members, we have a duty of care to those who attend our events, and it was distressing not being able to provide the supportive and open environment we had promised. We invited students to hear speakers, not to be shouted at. The shouting essentially amounted to an attempt to no-platform our speakers. In being party to this protest, the Oxford SU is making us feel like neither we, nor our views, are welcome to even be heard in this university.”

5 Points of Controversy from Monday’s Debate

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Last Monday, November 9th, a panel of four experts – Dr. Peter Saunders, Dr. Kevin Yuill, Dr. Richard Scheffer, and Dr. Jacky Davis – came together to debate the motion ‘This House opposes the legalisation of assisted suicide’. After a forty-five minute exchange, the panel opened up for questions, most of which addressed specific claims repeated by each side throughout the debate. Both the proposition and the opposition relied on several key points to make their cases; here, we take a look at the ones that proved the stickiest.

‘Assisted dying isn’t suicide’

Dr. Scheffer began his opening remarks with this punchy assertion. ‘Nobody’, he claimed, ‘wants to die’. Unlike those who commit suicide, he argued, those who choose assisted dying don’t want to die, but are already dying and simply want to avoid a highly painful or undignified death. Dr. Davis affirmed this in her speech as well; the pair emphasised that assisted suicide ought to be considered a vital part of palliative care for the dying, and is not for the suicidal.

But this is controversial. After all, an audience member asked, what about nihilists? Why is the desire to live a criterion for being able to ask a doctor to help you die? And how is it possible to argue that those asking for legal drugs, to take themselves, don’t want to die? If assisted dying isn’t suicide, there’s very little that seems to distinguish the two; fundamentally, both are caused, at least in part, by a desire to end one’s own life. And after some grumbling, Drs. Scheffer and Davis admitted that this is true; at the very least, those who ask for assisted dying have formed a will to die by the time they actually do so.

‘Assisted dying laws undermine moral equality’

Dr. Yuill’s arguments hinged on this claim. Assisted dying laws, no matter how well-worded and safeguarded they may be, ultimately create two moral classes of people in society; those whose lives are worth protecting, and those whose lives are not. A terminal diagnosis and six-month prognosis, he argued, are just arbitrary criteria, which can be changed or thrown out once it becomes permissible to say that person A may not be given lethal drugs, but person B may. Those who wish to die may not believe their lives have value, but it is the duty of the law to afford every life value, and equal value at that. The opposition didn’t counter this point directly, but instead argued that assisted dying is about freedom, not equality.

‘It’s working in Oregon’

In the final round of questions, Dr. Saunders remarked that ‘it’s pretty clear we have different ideas about what’s going on in Oregon’. Oregon came up frequently in the debate, as assisted dying bills in the UK have been largely modelled off of Oregon’s assisted suicide laws. The opposition cited Oregon’s law as a perfect example of a restricted, safe, functional assisted dying law. The proposition, on the other hand, pointed out that only a fraction of those who die by assisted suicide in Oregon actually underwent the psychological evaluations that candidates for assisted dying are supposed to receive, showing that the safeguards aren’t really that effective. Moreover, they pointed out, in Oregon, health insurance for low-income people covers assisted dying, but doesn’t cover many forms of palliative care. It can be more expensive to keep someone alive than it is to kill them; Oregon is a sad example of this.

‘Assisted dying undermines and threatens the vulnerable’

Dr. Davis rejected outright the claim that assisted dying undermines vulnerable people. She cited an instance in which her patient came to her, saying she’d been told to oppose the law because it threatened ‘vulnerable people’, but she didn’t know who those people were supposed to be. The vagueness here is worth clarifying, which the proposition could have done more of. Still, they pointed out that in places where assisted dying is legal, the elderly, frail, lonely, and depressed often feel increased pressure to consider physician-assisted suicide, because a previously unthinkable option is suddenly on the table. Though many of those who would be in this position are, sadly, on the fringes of society, many have come forward to oppose assisted suicide; some of the strongest opposition to a change in the law has come from disability advocacy groups.

‘The law would be restricted, and safe’

Time and time again, proponents of assisted dying have emphasised that any change in the law in the UK would be heavily safeguarded, and that therefore a ‘slippery slope’ argument just doesn’t work. Drs. Scheffer and Davis both repeated this point. But the proposition responded that despite good intentions, advocates for legal assisted dying can’t deny that safeguards have failed in many places, and that once the law is changed, there’s no guaranteeing its application. While the law may have safeguards and restrictions, once the door to legal physician-assisted suicide is opened, there’s simply no way to make sure it’s not abused. Are we willing to risk it?

 

The audience wasn’t – a final vote passed the motion by a significant margin. While both sides made clear and strong points, the opposition couldn’t persuade those listening that any good assisted dying laws could do wouldn’t be outweighed by the tremendous risk we would take in passing them. Though both sides emphasised compassion and mercy for the dying, the proposition made a powerful case that legal assisted suicide would be a threat to public safety. The push for assisted dying isn’t a solution to our problems; it’s a symptom of them.

 

For those who want to learn how to defend the pro-life position against assisted suicide, come along to Hertford on Monday for an apologetics workshop. More details here and here.

Event Preview: Philippa Taylor on Abortion and Disability

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On Monday night, we’ll be joining Philippa Taylor, head of public policy at the CMF, for a talk on ‘Should foetal disability be a ground for abortion?’. So, why is this a pertinent topic for discussion, and why should you come along?

Ground D of the 1967 Abortion Act, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, allows abortion up to birth in circumstances where it is discovered ‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’ In almost all other circumstances, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks’ gestation. The question is, is this discrimination against the disabled, if indeed discrimination before birth is such a thing?

Statistics for 2013  show that 2,732 abortions were carried out because of foetal abnormality – 22% because Down’s Syndrome was detected. We’ve discussed the sadness of this fact before. Despite the wording of the law determining that the signs would need to point to the child being ‘seriously handicapped’, there have been claims that abortions have been carried out for such things as cleft lip and club foot – things which routine surgery can easily treat. But then, there are cases of much more serious disability where the child might not survive birth, or the child will live a life that is fraught with suffering. We must address the very acute problems and pains that such diagnoses can cause.

These are all very sensitive issues whose impact touches, or indeed overwhelms the lives of many. My Grandma was paralysed from the waist down for 10 years. My best friend’s dad was born with one arm. The boy I looked after on my year abroad had Down’s Syndrome. As individuals, we all know people with disabilities and we all know that some are lived with in relative ease whilst others render life unbelievably challenging. As a society, we are becoming much more aware of the lives of people with disabilities and the obstacles that they and their families face, as dramas such as BBC’s ‘Don’t Take My Baby’ help demonstrate. We too need to become more aware of whether the current abortion law is in line with the changing ways we are looking at disability or if it flies in the face of such progress.

Email us at studentsforlife.oxford@gmail.com to reserve a place for Monday’s talk – details here

Jo Jackson is co-President of Oxford Students for Life

Eight points of clash from Monday’s debate

At times this was a hard debate to watch, simply because it dealt with issues about which you can’t be unemotional. It was also conducted at a pretty high intensity. Kate Smurthwaite began her opening speech by inviting the men in the audience to leave the room; she then extended the invitation to practically everyone else who supported the motion, ‘This House Regrets the 1967 Abortion Act’. The audience decided to stay in their seats, and heard a debate which soon went beyond the immediate topic into larger matters of principle. Here are eight key points which the debate covered.

Farrow introductions

Caroline Farrow, Nathan Pinkoski (Moderator), Kate Smurthwaite

1. What is abortion?

Caroline Farrow began with the fundamental question. She defined abortion as the ‘deliberate ending of the life of an unborn human being’. BPAS Chief Executive Ann Furedi, she pointed out, doesn’t deny that the unborn is human, alive and a unique being; the feminist author Naomi Wolf has called on her fellow pro-choicers to acknowledge that abortion involves a ‘real death’. The Abortion Act, then, legalised the deliberate taking of life.

Kate offered no alternative definition of abortion, though she said that she thought definitions of life were ‘spurious’. She supports abortion until birth, she explained; asked about babies who survive abortion and are born alive, she said they should be kept alive and put up for adoption. Viability, meanwhile, was ‘a red herring’: if it proved possible to keep the unborn alive at two weeks, abortion should still be legal up to birth.

2. What role should the law play?

Kate told us to be realistic about the reach of the law: ‘If a woman doesn’t want to continue with a pregnancy, she will not.’ Were abortion illegal, it would still go on, but illicitly and dangerously. She added that this would hit the poorest sections of society the hardest, and reminded us that as Oxford graduates (she is one herself) we have a responsibility to them. ‘We should be a part of improving their options, not ripping away what they have left.’

Caroline accepted that abortion will always happen. But ‘if terminating a pregnancy is taking a human life, we should send a signal that this is not OK.’ We don’t decriminalise murder and domestic violence and try to provide ‘a safe environment’ for them; we use the law to discourage them.

3. Should we have abortion on demand?

Caroline went back to the 1967 Commons debate. David Steel, who put forward the Bill and guided it through parliament, said: ‘We want to stamp out the back-street abortions, but it is not the intention of the promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request.’ But today we do have something like ‘abortion on request’: 98% of Britain’s nearly 200,000 annual abortions are carried out under ‘clause C’, the so-called ‘social clause’ which permits abortion to protect the mother’s mental health.

Caroline quoted a 2011 review carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, which concluded: ‘Abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies’. Yet it is for such ‘mental health outcomes’ that 98% of abortions take place.

In the 1967 debate, Jill Knight MP warned about ‘abortion on demand, which, of course, is what subsection (1, c) actually means.’ The suggestion was greeted with ‘uproar’ in the House of Commons. But Knight had been proved correct, Caroline suggested: over a third of abortions are repeat abortions, and some women have 5 or 6. Kate said of such cases, ‘I agree that that’s a problem’. But women having repeat abortions tend to be those trapped in economic deprivation or abusive relationships. We should be helping their situation.

In the Q and A, an audience member pointed out that current UK law discriminates against those with disabilities. They can be aborted up until birth, whereas the able-bodied can only be aborted up to 24 weeks. Kate agreed that this was a glaring fault – which ‘should be solved by completely decriminalising abortion’.

Farrow Kate

Kate Smurthwaite speaking

4. What are the effects of abortion?

Caroline drew attention to the many women who suffer psychological pain, but ‘are told to shut up about their regret because it ruins the narrative.’ She included herself in this: when she had had an abortion, she felt that she had struck a blow for women’s rights; but she still suffers to this day.

Kate replied: ‘She was free to make that choice, and so should you be’. She added that she herself had had an abortion; it was in Japan, where attitudes are more relaxed and there is less guilt. Negative feelings are created by pro-life groups, religious leaders and so on. If you want to solve psychological problems, you should ‘scrap faith schools’, get rid of the requirement for doctors to approve abortion requests, and make the system easier.

5. Is legal abortion safer for mothers?

Before the 1967 Act, Caroline said, the annual rate of maternal death from unsafe abortion was 30. That was 30 too many deaths, but some perspective is needed when one considers the 6 million unborn who have died since then: roughly a tenth of the UK population, in other words, is missing. And does the evidence bear out that legal abortion is safer?

Medical care has improved, Caroline went on. Less than 150 of the 6.4 million abortions performed between 1968 and 2011 were performed to save the life of a woman. One major symposium of nearly 150 medical experts in obstetrics took place in Dublin in 2012, and concluded that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother.

Moreover, countries with the most liberal abortion laws, such as the US, Canada and Norway, have the highest maternal death rates. The International Planned Parenthood Foundation has acknowledged a surge in maternal mortality rates in South Africa, even though that country has had the some of the most permissive laws in Africa. Mauritius, with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Africa, has the lowest maternal mortality rate. In South America, a similar effect can be observed: Chile, whose constitution protects the lives of the unborn, has maternal mortality rates 30 times lower than Guyana, where abortion has been unrestricted since 1995.

Kate replied that statistics show legal abortion is far safer for women. She said she didn’t have any figures to hand, but had a graph about Guyana which she could post on her website. She reminded us of the deaths of women denied abortions: ‘I’m here on behalf of all those women.’ One was Savita Halappanavar, whose husband she had met. Savita, Kate claimed, ‘knew that an abortion would save her life’.

Caroline responded that Savita’s tragic death happened because of ‘mismanagement of sepsis. A termination would not have helped her.’

6. Is it a free choice?

Kate appealed to autonomy: ‘It might be your moral choice not to use it…but it is my right to act as I see fit.’

Caroline replied that not every woman is in a clear frame of mind when she chooses abortion: many feel they are ‘bounced’. The decision is not taken in a vacuum, free of external pressures of all kinds. The Good Counsel Network have many stories illustrating this: for instance, one woman who said, ‘I don’t want to have this abortion, but my boyfriend is outside in the car and I don’t know what to do.’ Caroline returned to her own experience: ‘The choice that I thought I was exercising…was not free.’ And later in life, she was pressurized to abort her daughter:

‘I was under pressure from family, friends and even work pressures…it was made clear to me that I had in some way let down the company and had severely dented my future prospects, despite the existence of copious employment legislation designed to protect women.’

A midwife had been so insistent that she have an abortion that Caroline had stopped seeing her, and so had ended up with health problems.

Kate rejoined that she was ‘against forced abortion as much as forced pregnancy’.

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The hall fills up before the debate

7. Is the pro-life movement made up of religious bigots?

Kate explained that she couldn’t shake hands with any OSFL members: ‘It’s not my policy to shake hands with people who want to take away my human rights.’ Most pro-lifers, she claimed, believe in God; so she asked Caroline whether anyone would go to heaven for not being able to have an abortion. Anyway, if you believe in God, shouldn’t you expect Him to step in and stop abortion?

Caroline replied that ‘There is a thriving secular pro-life movement’. Though she herself is Catholic, it’s not a purely religious dogma to want ‘egalitarian rights across the board’ for everyone, including the unborn. As far as she was concerned, it is ‘deeply unchristian to judge’. She recommended that if Kate was ever condemned by Christians, ‘You can say, ‘I know a rabid fundamentalist Catholic who says you shouldn’t judge people’.’

8. What does it mean to value women?

For Kate, ‘pro-life’ is a misnomer: it should be ‘pro-forced pregnancy’. Unless you are a vegan who avoids stepping on ants, or have donated a kidney, your pro-life principles are a sham: you must think that ‘forced pregnancy is the right way to punish women for having sex.’ Behind the rhetoric of valuing life is a hatred for women.

Caroline saw it differently. For one thing, ‘Abortion profoundly hurts women, physically, mentally, socially and culturally.’ For another, ‘Abortion says to women, ‘No, you can’t cope.’ It’s a vote for despair.’ It must be possible to love the baby and the mother. The true progressive doesn’t treat motherhood as a problem.

The two speakers agreed that more support is needed, for pregnant women, for parents, and for children with disabilities.

(D.H.)

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.

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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.

(D.H.)

‘The purpose of the law is to protect the vulnerable’: Robert Preston at OSFL last night

An assisted suicide law would threaten public safety, and doctors themselves don’t want it: so Robert Preston argued last night in Oxford Students for Life’s opening event of the academic year.

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‘It is not safe to change the law’

As Preston explained, he got into the end-of-life debate more or less by accident. A civil servant for thirty years, he was asked to be Clerk to the parliamentary committee on the 2004 Assisted Dying Bill. Over time, he became convinced that ‘based on the evidence, it is not safe to change the law’. Preston does not think of himself as a campaigner: Living and Dying Well, the think-tank he directs, concentrates on hard facts and produces meticulously researched reports. The facts all point one way, he says: towards keeping the present law. ‘The purpose of the law is to protect society as a whole, to protect the vulnerable’.

Lord Falconer’s proposed reform would change the culture: it would invite weak, ill and depressed people to end their own lives. This is not just speculation. Since 1998, when Oregon passed similar legislation, its death-rate from assisted suicide has risen fivefold. Last year in the Netherlands, meanwhile, euthanasia accounted for 1 in 32 deaths; and there is now pressure for an end-of-life pill to be available in pharmacies. ‘There has been a complete change in culture,’ Preston said of the Dutch situation, which he has seen first-hand. The law ‘changes the public’s view of the act in question.’

This helps to explain why the medical profession firmly opposes assisted suicide. As Preston pointed out, the Royal College of Physicians have themselves intervened, writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2009 to insist that doctors who assisted suicide should be prosecuted. The legal authorities have not imposed their view; rather, ‘This is the doctors’ professional body saying, ‘No, we shouldn’t be doing this.’’

‘Baby-boomers have had it all our own way’

This was a witty and fluent talk, which was well received by a large audience. It was especially pleasing to meet so many audience members who are still undecided on the issues, and came along with an open mind. Preston pointed out that the media debate focuses on the exceptions, not the norm: in the last 10 years, 1 in 50,000 British deaths have been at Dignitas, and each one has been a news story. The other 49,999 tend not to make headlines.

Preston ended with a provocative suggestion. It is strange, he noted, when palliative care has advanced so much in the last fifty years, that the voices for euthanasia have got louder. But his generation, he remarked, with all their prosperity, have grown accustomed to controlling every part of their lives. ‘Baby-boomers have had it all our own way, and we’re coming to the stage when we’re up against something we can’t have our own way.’ Whether the movement comes from compassion or from the desire for absolute autonomy, it should be resisted. ‘Would a law be safe? I doubt it.’