Pro-life students at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, have been banned from setting up an official group affiliated to the students’ union, raising further concerns over freedom of speech on campuses.
Despite effectively censoring pro-life opinions, the ban was enacted on the grounds that the groups’ mere existence would “contravene equal opportunities” as the pro-life students may “harass” others. There is no indication that they have done so in the past.
A minute of a meeting of the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association (USSA), seen by Herald Scotland, said: “Anti-choice groups actively use intimidation and fear tactics to harass people entering abortion clinics.
“The establishment of anti-choice groups would directly contravene equal opportunities policy by giving them a platform to harass students. This in turn violates their safe space.
“Allowing an anti-choice group to form would be a barrier to freedom, equality and body autonomy for those with uteruses on campus and therefore not only violate existing standing policy, but also act against the interests of a large amount of the student population.”
The move means that the group will not be able to access funding for promotional events, nor attend conference. The group is particularly angry about the decision because they had previously applied for funding but were told they had to affiliate with the union first. The union then passed the blanket ban on all “anti-choice” groups.
Students are also concerned about what the decision means for freedom of speech.
Jamie McGowan, a pro-life student from Strathclyde, said: “It is deplorable that a modern university is incapable of facilitating debate on a societal or medical issue such as abortion.
“Ironically, they will happily take positions on politics, but refuse to allow political debate and we feel this policy is a violation of freedom of speech.”
Chloe Lindsey, an English student at the university added: “The suppression of freedom of speech has no place in a university which claims to be liberal and forward-thinking.”
However, Raj Jayaraj, president of USSA, defended the ban as the union’s policies make it clear that access to abortions is deemed fundamental to women’s equality, and that groups contravening policy are not allowed to affiliate.
He added: “If a society representing the British National Party came on campus then we would not allow them to affiliate.”
The row comes as Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that the Scottish government are exploring ways to allow Northern Irish women to access free abortions in Scottish NHS hospitals. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except where the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life or long-term health.
Around 2,000 women a year travel from Northern Ireland to Britain to obtain an abortion, paying between £400 and £2,000 for the procedure at a private clinic.
Sturgeon said: “I was asked a question specifically in parliament about the scenario where a woman from Northern Ireland chooses to access an abortion in Scotland and whether they should be charged for that or not,” The Guardian has reported.
She continued: “Now I said that we would explore that, so we are looking in terms of the process and will discuss with the NHS what would happen now routinely, and whether there are options to change that, to make the process safer for the women concerned.
“My view is that if a woman is going to access an abortion then the important thing is that it is as safe as possible … I am not putting a timescale on it but I will report back to parliament in due course.”
Speaking to Breitbart London, Bow Group research fellow Jon Stanley, who lives in Edinburgh, warned that attitudes and policies adopted in Scotland quickly make their way into the rest of the UK.
Liberal policies are passed “through Holyrood [the Scottish Parliament] first, then it’s established, then you’ve got a beachhead for raising it in the rest of Britain. That’s the model, and people in England need to wise up to that.
“If you don’t tackle these things in Scotland, they make their way down to you before long.”