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Should Pro-Life Societies be Allowed on Campus?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Last month, a law which equates to a near-total ban on abortion was put into effect in Texas, ensuring that millions of women will no longer have the right to choose whether to terminate a life-changing unwanted pregnancy outside of an unforgiving time scale. Across the pond, a small but significant war is now being waged against the pro-life societies that have existed, sometimes for years, on university campuses across the country.

Exeter has led the charge, with a petition calling for Exeter Students for Life (ESFL)’s disbandment amassing over 9,000 signatures and a sit-in protest taking place on campus. Bristol’s own petition for the restriction of its Pro-Life Feminist Society is now at 500 signatures and counting. But are those protesting yet again another example of a group trying to take away the right to free speech of those whose opinions they don’t like, or is something bigger at stake? At the heart of many dissenters’ action against these societies is the conviction that they are attempting to counteract the very same misogynistic beliefs that were at the root of the Texan government’s legislative agenda and archaic abortion laws worldwide.

An Unsafe Campus

In the light of the discussion around women’s rights being placed squarely into the public domain, it comes as no surprise that misogyny is still very much an unwelcome presence on campus. Recent ‘Bristruths’ have seen women anonymously share their experiences of sexual assault at Bristol, encouraging men to take on more responsibility to protect their female friends on nights out. One poster divulged that their attacker is still attending classes at the university and that they “walk around every day in fear” that they will cross paths with them.

Most prominently, the dangers associated with going out at university have forced women to be constantly on their guard. Just about everyone has seen that chilling footage in which a man blatantly spiked a woman’s drink at Pryzm, leading to the arrest of two men. Now new, disturbing reports are springing up from universities across the country from women who have described being ‘secretly injected’ while on nights out, the needles allegedly containing muscle relaxant or even used as a means to spread HIV. The perpetrators remain unknown.

It’s not just being placed directly in danger that we have to contend with. The revelation that there are plans for young women at Cambridge to receive seminars on fertility and childcare, with the warning that they risk childlessness if they leave it too late, is emblematic of the more subtle forms of misogyny that women experience on campus. And now, the existence of pro-life societies is at the forefront of conversations about yet again another problem women must face while embarking on their university careers.

Charlotte, a third-year Illustration student, is against these societies in no uncertain terms. Talking to Her Campus about Bristol’s Pro-Life movement, she maintained that “it undoubtedly promotes harassment of people considering or planning to have abortions”.

“It creates an unsafe campus where the message is that women’s bodies need to be policed. To say you are a feminist, and then strip women of their healthcare, is disgusting and shameful”.

“Banning this society would send a message of support to Bristol’s female identifying student body”.

The Reality of the Situation

Although it is undeniably their right to justify and debate their beliefs as much as they want in a society that values freedom of speech, some of the information shared and the language used could be harmful towards women. For example, a cursory look at the Facebook page for the Pro-Life Feminist Society reveals promotion for an unproven method of stopping an abortion in progress, known as the ‘abortion reversal pill’, for which the only properly conducted trial had to be stopped due to an ‘unacceptable rate of haemorrhage’. Invitations for talks are displayed, such as ‘How to End Abortion’, an event that aims to introduce attendees to ‘pro-life activism’ and educate them on what they can ‘practically do’ about abortions.

The language used here overtly encourages direct action against a safe and legal medical procedure, with a view to making it ‘unthinkable’. It is also difficult to see why the entirety of the society’s focus seems to be on women, when if men took on more responsibility when it comes to birth control, the rate of unplanned pregnancies would surely decrease. Unless the society’s structure is fundamentally changed, by organising regular, moderated forums of discussion for example, it is difficult to see how the calls for its removal will stop.  

The Pro-Life Feminist Society itself has asserted that they are both ‘pro-life and pro-woman’. Speaking to Her Campus, they told us that “we feel it is our duty to protect the unborn who are innocent, have the right to life and cannot speak for themselves”.

“We completely support the bodily autonomy of women, but the right to bodily autonomy cannot extend to taking the life of another”.

However, they advised us that they are invested in improving support for mothers and have actively campaigned for this. “In 2019, we put forth an SU motion ‘Comprehensive Support and Advice for Pregnant Students and their Partners‘ which also includes the aftercare for students who have undergone abortions”.

We understand that any abortion is both physically and emotionally demanding and needs special care”.

The good that this society hopes to do is unfortunately eclipsed by their stance on abortion, especially when we are faced with the reality of the situation. In Charlotte’s words, “pregnancy can be highly dangerous for women, especially if they are not physically, emotionally or financially able to have a baby. Banning abortion would not lower abortion rates, it simply makes the procedure life-threatening”. The harrowing statistic that there are an estimated 23,000 preventable pregnancy-related deaths per year due to unsafe conditions during abortion demonstrates just how important it is that these procedures remain easily accessible.

It is doubtful that the existence of these societies will make much of a direct difference to the lives of anyone on campus who could possibly experience an unplanned pregnancy. People who are pro-choice have no obligation to interact with their membership, and it’s easy to see why many argue that this is a free speech issue. The Pro-Life Feminist Society has itself made the point that they have been peacefully running events for over two years. In their words, “to be silenced now simply because people disagree with us would make a mockery of the free speech standards we expect of civilised society”.

But anti-abortion laws like the one introduced in Texas do not exist in a vacuum. A foundation of anti-women sentiment was built up for years beforehand to facilitate its passing. Like the right to suffrage – which was once considered debatable – in the UK a woman’s right to choose is fundamental. It makes little sense for organisations within universities to be set up with the sole purpose of actively fighting against this right.

Madison James

Bristol '24

I'm a second year Politics and French student at Bristol. I'm also a student journalist, with an interest in everything to do with music, culture, politics, current affairs and issues affecting young people.
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