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Student Pressure Shuts Down Oxford Abortion Debate


Greg Daly - published on 11/20/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Peter D. Williams, executive officer of pro-life charity Right to Life and someone who has debated with Furedi, told Aleteia that, “this whole debacle has shown the fault lines in the abortion lobby between the more liberal and libertarian folk who are willing to engage in controversy openly (like Ann Furedi and Brendan O’Neill), and those on the radical and far left who are so ideologically bigoted that they cannot empathize with or understand those who disagree with them, and won’t even countenance discussion with them.”

“This latter group is of course very much over-represented in the immaturity of student politics and the unreality of academia,” he added, continuing, “Having had a talk of mine cancelled, and a debate protested, I’m aware of the anti-liberalism that animated these moves, and can only hope students who practice such politics grow out of it before they have the chance to exercise censorship in areas of public life that matter even more than student activities.”

Catholic Voices member Caroline Farrow points out that previous OSFL debates have featured high profile female abortion advocates as well as female pro-lifers like herself, such that it’s “something of a nonsense” to claim that such debates were suppressing women’s voices.

In any case, she told Aleteia, “Claiming abortion as being solely about the right of women to choose what to do with their bodies not only denies the existence of an independent life, but it also allows men to abrogate all responsibility for any children they may inadvertently have fathered.”

Unfortunately, says Tanya Murray, secretary of the national Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS), “the censorship of this debate was not an isolated incident but rather it is part of a worrying trend across UK universities where ‘no platform’ motions are increasingly used as an ‘alternative’ to free, fair and open debate.“

“Certain individuals have taken it upon themselves to police what students think and what ideas they hear,” Maria Stopyra, APS Student Support Chair and Treasurer, explained to Aleteia, “and while they do not represent the majority of students, sadly this anti free speech rhetoric is a powerful voice in the student politics of Britain.”

Writing in the Telegraph in the aftermath of the cancelled debate, Stanley observed that abortion in Britain is not merely widely available and easily accessible but is “a politically protected subject,” as demonstrated by the suppression of the debate. Arguing that new parameters are being set for freedom of speech in Britain, he said that for some, people are “free to speak so long as it doesn’t offend certain sensibilities, which of course amounts to no real freedom at all.”

“Many on the Left imitate the very authoritarian mindset of the people on the religious Right that they claim to hate,” he said, “likewise trying to safeguard their definition of freedom by eradicating contrary ideas. On the subject of abortion, the Left can enjoy that authoritarianism because contemporary society broadly agrees with them. But a day will come when they try to argue for something that proves unpopular and they, too, will be gagged.”

Recognizing that the cancellation of the debate has sparked debate in its own right, OSFL’s Amy Owens is keen to stress the silver lining. “We’re glad the debate having to be called off has drawn attention to the censorship pro-life groups face on campus,” she says, “and that there’s some dialogue about free speech and abortion going on within the same circles that organized the protest.”

Oxford’s so-called “pro-choice” students may have won this battle, but OSFL and others have grounds to hope that this victory may prove a Pyrrhic one.

Greg Daly covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

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