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Petition launched against pro-life students in Manchester

A petition, which has gathered over 15,000 signatures, has been launched calling for a student pro-life group at the University of Manchester to be dissolved.

Started last week by a student at the University of Manchester, the author of the petition claims to be “deeply troubled by the potential harm that could be caused by our university’s Pro-Life Society” and asks for public support in “dissolving” the university’s student pro-life group.

The petition says “We ask for your support in dissolving the Pro-Life Society at the University of Manchester as it has potential to cause distress among students who may require access to abortion services now or in future”.

The Manchester Pro-Life society has been affiliated with the students’ union since January this year. The group said it exists to “promote the wellbeing, and dignity of every human life, from conception” and added that it was “not an anti-abortion society but a pro-life society”.

In a statement to the BBC, the pro-life group said “We exist to encourage students to think critically about the way we define and value human life”.

“While we oppose abortion, we are also concerned with other threats to life including assisted suicide, the death penalty, deaths occurring through poverty and poor living standards, structural issues in critical infrastructure such as the NHS, and climate change”.

The students’ union said it could not prevent the society from forming because of its beliefs adding that it was bound by the 1994 Education Act, the 2010 Equality Act, and section 43 of the 1986 Education Act as well as new legislation coming into force later this year protecting free speech on university campuses.

“…it felt like I was at the beginning of a new Margaret Atwood novel”

One student, Heather Bowling, told The Independent that the students’ union (SU) is “directly enabling misogynistic hate speech”.

“My heart dropped [when I saw the society] – it felt like I was at the beginning of a new Margaret Atwood novel”.

“[The pro-life society] actively promotes a harmful rhetoric – this society’s goal is to create a pro-life culture – does the University of Manchester not realise what this entails?”.

“Universities are supposed to be centres of progression, yet they are allowing societies which debate women’s bodily autonomy and rights”.

Bowling claimed also to have received “messages from girls who fear for their safety”.

“Don’t get me wrong I am all for having different political views, but I think women’s bodily autonomy is not up for debate”, the 20-year-old added.

Pro-lifers censored

In what has become a pattern at universities across the UK, many pro-life groups have been hindered in their ability to express their pro-life views at university.

Since 2017, student representative bodies at Aberdeen University, Glasgow University, Nottingham University and Strathclyde University have all tried to prevent student pro-life groups from being affiliated with their university and benefiting from the same privileges available to any other student group. In each of these cases, the student unions had to reverse their decision after the groups threatened legal proceedings against them. Students at Birmingham University also had significant difficulty becoming affiliated with the university but eventually won out against significant opposition.

In 2019, in the first case of its kind, a midwifery student at Nottingham University was suspended and faced possible expulsion from her course after a lecturer raised concerns about her role in the University’s pro-life group. Only after beginning legal action was the University’s decision overturned. Towards the end of 2020, this incident was closed after the university extended an apology to the student and offered compensation for her unjust suspension.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said “Rhetoric about the ‘harm’ ‘potentially’ caused by disagreeing on abortion is out of all proportion to reality. A pro-life group that intends, among other things, to discuss abortion and make the case for opposing it has as much right to be heard as anyone else”.

“Student pro-life groups are often the first opportunity people have to hear the pro-life view and this should not be denied by other students making spurious accusations about ‘harm’. Fortunately, the students’ union has decided to abide by the law and has said it will not be dissolving the pro-life society”.

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.