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Thousands oppose ‘hateful’ anti-abortion society at Exeter University amid ‘free speech’ row

Exeter Students For Life committee is made up of one woman and three men

Emily Atkinson
Saturday 09 October 2021 00:39 BST
The society describes itself as being made up of “students striving for a culture of life on our uni campus and in our city.”
The society describes itself as being made up of “students striving for a culture of life on our uni campus and in our city.” (University of Exeter)
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Thousands of people have voiced opposition to an anti-abortion society at Exeter University.

A petition which warns the society promotes a “dangerous ideology” that will “exacerbate the pre-existing stigmas around abortion” has been signed by more than 8,000 people within days,

It comes after the Exeter Students For Life group, formed in since March 2019, drew condemnation by launching a promotional campaign on social media aimed at recruiting freshers.

The society, whose committee is made up of three men and one woman, describes itself as being made up of “students striving for a culture of life on our uni campus and in our city.”

The society’s vice-president, a male third-year philosophy student, wrote under an introductory Instagram post: “I do not believe that any woman really wants to have an abortion.

“I believe that it is a choice made in fear, which is no real choice at all. I believe in humanity’s capacity for love and I want to create conditions for its flourishing.

As part of a Q&A on their Instagram page, one member wrote: “We do not want to cultivate a society in which women are forced to seek illegal abortions. We oppose all forms of abortion. Therefore, we oppose illegal abortions also.

“Our focus is not on writing the legislation ourselves but on having respectful conversations to try persuade people that abortions are wrong.”

Another said: “We advocate against abortion, promoting the dignity of human life and striving for its protection. We will equip our members with the tools to confidently share the pro-life message in a sensitive and respectful way.”

Students have called on Exeter University to ban the society.

One wrote online: “You do realise that by funding such a hateful organisation, those with wombs are no longer going to feel safe on campus?”

Another said: “The fact this is allowed is disgusting.”

The University of Exeter’s Students’ Guild issued a statement acknowledging opposition to the pro-life society but said it supported “freedom of speech”.

The statement added: “We want to foster an environment where our members can participate fully, feel able to question and challenge, express new ideas, discuss controversial and or unpopular opinions within the law- all without fear of intolerance or discrimination.

“We are committed to the principle that both debate and deliberation should not be suppressed, and we encourage and support our members to engage, within the law, in both a constructive and responsible manner to contest any ideas they oppose openly and vigorously.

“Any Guild member (which is any student at University of Exeter) can apply to start a new society, and although there is a criteria set for this, the above consideration of free speech enables students to establish groups with a diverse range of views.”

In response, a group of students from Exeter University, who go by the name SAFESEXE, published an open letter calling for the removal of accreditation and funding for ESFL.

The open letter has since been signed by close to 2,500 students.

“A society with such an ideology clearly contradicts the empowerment that Exeter’s Student Guild seeks to provide for its students and inhibits the ability for Exeter to be a safe space for all,” the letter reads.

“The values of the Guild are: ‘radically inclusive, collaborative and empowering’. Although the Guild may be being radically inclusive in allowing a society that demonstrates an alternative view, the society itself is not inclusive and does not help to empower students with uteruses.

“Furthermore, given the University’s recent emphasis on gender safety and diversity and inclusivity, having a society, whose committee is predominantly male, commenting on reproductive rights of individuals with uteruses undermines and endangers the positive change that is trying to be implemented.

“To allow this society to continue would be to perpetuate a culture where women are shamed for their choices and could lead to the potential for violence, discrimination, and misogyny on our campuses.

“Consequently, we hope that the Guild and University will prioritise the wellbeing, safety and rights of their students by taking appropriate action and abolishing this society.”

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