Pro-life student society approved at Birmingham University amid row over freedom of speech

Anti-abortion group is now hoping to set up a society to ensure both sides are represented

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 27 February 2019 16:58 GMT
The University of Birmingham launched an investigation after a keylogger was found
The University of Birmingham launched an investigation after a keylogger was found

An anti-abortion society has been approved at the University of Birmingham amid a row over free speech.

The Students’ Guild gave the green light to the "Birmingham Students For Life" group this month despite strong opposition.

The group describes itself on its Facebook page as a "society of students who believe that human life should be protected from the moment of conception until natural death and we act to try and promote a culture of life on campus."

It added: "To this end, we aim to inform women with unexpected or difficult pregnancies of the options that are open to them other than abortion and to encourage civil debate and discussion between those who are pro-life and pro-choice."

The application had been deferred multiple times prior to approval and student officers had tried to stop the formation of the group, student newspaper The Tab reported.

A group of students is now hoping to set up a pro-choice society to ensure a pro-life perspective “does not control the dialogue”.

The move comes after a pro-life group was banned from affiliating to the students’ union at the University of Glasgow. It was described as an “assault on freedom of speech” by Glasgow Students for Life.

A similar ban on anti-abortion groups at the University of Strathclyde was lifted by the students’ association in October last year amid concerns around free speech.

Some have defended the formation of the pro-choice society at the University of Birmingham as they argue a ban would undermine free speech as it is a “legitimate belief”.

But the student union’s women's officers, Alif Trevathan and Holly Battrick, have condemned the move.

“Freedom of speech is undeniably an important value in our society, but this should not come at the cost of other people's safety," the pair told The Tab. “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to incite hatred or violence or bigotry. The so-called ‘pro-life’ stance is one we believe to incite misogyny and hatred by way of policing people's bodies and right to bodily autonomy. It should never be welcome in our student's union.”

Speaking to The Independent, they added: "We have already received multiple emails from frightened students who feel their safety is being violated due to the very existence of this group.

"Students rightly feel that the Guild allowing the group to exist means endorsement of either a pro-life position, or merely a demonstration of total antipathy."

The University of Birmingham’s Students’ Guild told The Independent: “The pro-life group at the Guild was officially approved after a considered discussion between the students proposing to establish the group and the Guild’s Student Groups Executive. The group were approved on the condition that they work with members of staff in the Guild to develop their constitution in order to help them run their events safely and to mitigate potential risks to other students running activities on campus.

“The Guild recognises the right of all students to express freedom of speech within the law and will continue to be the home of discussion and debate for different views and opinions.”

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Accepting it was not a "popular public opinion to have pro life views" Birmingham Students For Life told The Tab they were "pleased that the guild has recognised this and given us the freedom to be a society and have a platform where we are able to meet and discuss matters that we believe to be important."

They added: "We firmly believe in being a peaceful presence on campus, where people do not feel pressured in any way and are able to approach us on their own terms".

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