Student midwife forced to suspend studies over pro-life views

A midwifery student who was forced to suspend her studies over her pro-life views believes she was unfairly targeted and has asked for a formal apology from the University of Nottingham.

Julia Rynkiewicz faced expulsion from her degree after lecturers raised concerns about her involvement with the Nottingham Students for Life (NSFL) society.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, the final year midwifery student was suspended from her course and became the subject of an almost four month long investigation.

During this difficult time, Julia was also banned from completing her placement at a local hospital.

As a result of the investigation against her, Julia will now graduate a year later than her fellow students but has suffered undue “stress” and a lack of financial support during the ordeal.

Last week, university officials U-turned on their decision and dismissed the case against her.

However, Julia believes that she has been unfairly targeted over her pro-life views and has raised questions over the significant procedural failures by the University.

She has issued a formal complaint against the Russell Group university and has asked for an apology “as a matter of justice” so that “they realise they have done wrong and will change it so that no one else has to go through what I have”.

If the University doesn’t apologise, Julia could carry her case through to the ombudsman and then on to court.

The undergraduate told The Telegraph: “I’m willing to take this as far as necessary. I think it’s important to remember that being pro-life isn’t incompatible with being a midwife.”

She added: “It all felt a bit ridiculous and I have had to put my life on hold for a year and that’s been frustrating.

“I would quite like an apology for everything they have put me through… I suppose that they have realised they have done wrong and [I hope they] will change it so no one else has to go through what I have.

“I’m going to be applying for compensation for this. I’m willing to take this as far as necessary but I suppose we will see how this goes. I think this case says a lot about freedom of speech especially regarding pro-life students.”

Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel at ADF International, a legal organisation, which supported Julia, said: “No student should have to go through this kind of daunting process.

“Julia’s treatment, in this case, represents a very chilling prospect for freedom of speech on campus. Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas – even those with which they disagree.

“In this case, Julia’s involvement with an affiliated pro-life society led to her fitness to practise being investigated. The now dismissed allegations were initially withheld from Julia, then drip-fed, and then changed before she had the chance to respond.”

Julia served as president of “Nottingham Students for Life”, a pro-life student society that was initially denied affiliation by Nottingham University’s Students’ Union.

However, following the threat of legal action, the decision was overturned in July 2019.

In what is becoming a pattern at universities across the UK, many pro-life groups have been hindered in their ability to speak freely and enjoy the same benefits as other student societies.

Student representative bodies at Aberdeen University, Glasgow University, Nottingham University, and at Strathclyde University have all had to reverse their decisions to refuse affiliation to pro-life groups after the groups raised the prospect of legal proceedings.

In 2018, the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report on Freedom of Speech in Universities, which criticised growing restrictions on free speech and the new phenomenon of ‘no-platforming’ policies on UK campuses and the exclusion of pro-life views.

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK Catherine Robinson said:

“Universities were once considered a key forum in which ideas and opinions could be discussed and argued, however, more and more we are seeing attempts to censor the pro-life view from being discussed on campus.

“This behaviour sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and expression more generally.”

The growth in pro-life student groups reflects the shifting public attitude towards abortion in the UK. A 2017 Savanta ComRes poll revealed that 72% of the UK public oppose introducing further extreme abortion legislation to the UK.

Call for review of abortion time limits after new evidence reveals unborn babies could feel pain at just 13 weeks

New evidence has suggested unborn babies at 13 weeks gestation could be suffering pain as they are being aborted.

Currently, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists author all clinical guidelines for UK abortion providers. They rely on a 2010 review they undertook into fetal awareness when providing guidance to abortion providers on whether unborn children in an abortion can feel pain. 

They claim that the unborn baby is in an unconscious state and does not reach consciousness until birth. They have been criticised for this conclusion being based on the evidence from only one paper from 1986, an experiment on sheep foetuses exposed to low oxygen levels.

But two medical researchers, including a ‘pro-choice’ British pain expert who used to think there was no chance unborn babies could feel pain before 24-weeks, say recent studies strongly suggest the assumption is incorrect.

In an article, published in the influential Journal of Medical Ethics, the researchers say there is now “good evidence” that the brain and nervous system, which start developing at 12 weeks’ gestation, are sufficient enough for the baby to feel pain.

They argue that women considering an abortion at this stage of pregnancy should be told about the pain their unborn baby could experience while being terminated.

Noting the increased concerns of women over the pain unborn babies may experience, they say medical staff should ask if the woman wants the baby to be given pain relief.

To carry on regardless of new evidence “flirts with moral recklessness,” they add.

Currently, the use of pain relief in the UK is not required by law or suggested in official guidelines. This in itself is contradicted by the standard NHS practice of giving painkillers to unborn babies receiving surgery in the womb for spina bifida

The lead author of the article is British professor Stuart Derbyshire, who has acted as a consultant to the US’ largest abortion provider – Planned Parenthood – and the Pro-Choice Forum in the UK.

In 2006, he wrote in the British Medical Journal that not talking to women seeking abortions about pain experienced by unborn babies was “sound policy based on good evidence that foetuses cannot experience pain”.

However, due to recent studies, he says “it is now clear that the consensus is no longer tenable.”

Professor Derbyshire and Dr Bockmann advise: “Given the evidence that the foetus might be able to experience something like pain during later abortions, it seems reasonable that the clinical team and the pregnant woman are encouraged to consider foetal analgesia [pain relief].”

The two medics add that their own “stark differences” on the morality of abortion “should not interfere with discussion of whether foetal pain is possible”.

Pro-life groups and leading politicians have called for a parliamentary review on abortion time limits, noting that the last debate had on this issue was in 2008 before any new evidence had come to light.

Pro-life MP Fiona Bruce said: “Given developing views and research on foetal pain, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ guidance on this issue in relation to abortion – which is now nearly ten years old – should be reviewed.”

Cross-bench peer Lord Alton, who is part of a parliamentary inquiry into foetal pain, said: “This new evidence adds further pressure on Parliament to urgently review our current abortion time limit. We last had a proper debate on time limits in 2008.”

Calls for a review of time limits were quickly rejected by the UK’s largest abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who boldly told the Mail on Sunday: “There is nothing in this paper which would lead to a change in practice.” 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists declined to comment. 

This is in contrast to the French College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines which state: 

[English translation]: “Fetal analgesia is justified by pain stimulation in case of an intracardiac puncture, but also because the injection of KCl [potassium chloride] or death itself can be painful.”

A national survey of French pre-natal diagnosis centers revealed that for late-term abortions 97% of abortion clinics or hospitals surveyed will always give unborn babies pain relief prior to administering a lethal injection that induces a heart attack (known as feticide). 

A spokesperson for Right to Life UK Catherine Robinson said:

“In light of this new evidence, we back the calls of Fiona Bruce and Lord Alton in calling for an urgent parliamentary review of time limits.

“17,913 women in the UK underwent an abortion at 13 weeks or later, in 2018, without any guidance mandating the use of pain relief for the unborn baby at any age. Yet, babies undergoing correctional surgery in the womb for Spinal Bifida, from 20 weeks gestation, will experience minimal pain as they’ll be administered pain relief. 

“Why is there this discrepancy? Perhaps it is because the provision of painkillers to a baby that is about to have their life ended would help bring home the reality of abortion. To recognise their pain would have a deeply humanising effect on unborn babies, which is something that abortion supporters are keen to avoid. It would acknowledge that there is another human being who is being denied their right to life, while they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.