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A pro-life student group has been granted affiliation at the University of Aberdeen after it took legal action against the University of Aberdeen and its student association for alleged “unlawful discrimination”.
In what appears to becoming a pattern at universities in Britain, Aberdeen Life Ethics Society (ALES) applied to become affiliated with the Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA) and was initially refused on the grounds that ALES pro-life views directly contradicted AUSA’s ‘pro-choice’ policy.
The ‘pro-choice’ policy commits AUSA “to campaign against” groups that offer pro-life advice and “to offer no funding, facilitation, or platform to any such group”.
It seems however, that such a policy could in fact be illegal as it apparently contravenes the Education Act (No. 2) 1986 , the Equality Act 2010 and Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Section 43 of places an obligation on universities “to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.” The obligation is not merely to refrain from limiting or infringing freedom of speech, but rather this law imposes a positive and proactive legal duty to ensure that freedom of speech is secured.
Indeed, after months of obstruction for AUSA, the ALES took the AUSA to court in April.
Appealing to Section 10 of the Equality Act, which treats “philosophical belief” as a “protected characteristic”, and the European Court of Human Rights, which has specifically ruled that opposition to abortion falls within the category of belief guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, ALES’ lawyers alleged “unlawful discrimination” and violation of rights protected by UK law.
Following this legal action, it seems the AUSA has relented, suspended it’s ‘pro-choice’ policy, and accepted affiliation of Aberdeen Life Ethics Society.
As noted, this is not the first instance of a pro-life student group not being permitted to affiliate with a students’ union. While some might not be concerned about this, recognition as an official student society is essential as it typically permits student groups to book university rooms for their events and entitles them to a certain amount of funding. Without this status, which other groups with diverse ideological beliefs are entitled to, pro-life groups are relegated to second class status and are significantly hindered in their proper functioning.