A few weeks ago, Cardiff University’s students’ union voted to greatly limit the expression of pro-life views on campus. Over the course of a four-hour session, the union debated two motions: the first would require the union to adopt an all-out, pro-choice stance on the issue of abortion, while the second proposed an outright ban on student-affiliated societies from taking part in ‘anti-choice protests or rallies’.
While, according to the Catholic Herald, representatives from the university’s Islamic Society, Catholic Society and Pro-Life Society (as well as many pro-choice students) opposed these motions strongly, a majority voted in favour of the second motion in the preliminary round of voting. It was set to pass following a secret ballot from a more select group in the senate until it was voided on a technicality – the union had failed to reach the minimum level of voter turnout necessary to make a definitive ruling.
The vote has been re-scheduled, and while the results remain to be seen, this is yet another chilling attempt on the part of student unions to censor unpopular ideas on campus. If the ban does eventually pass, Cardiff students’ union would effectively be appointing itself the moral authority on the issue of abortion to thousands of students. By what authority does any student union hold this power over its members? It certainly isn’t democratic mandate, if the pitiful turnout at the meeting itself is anything to go by. Student-union officials can put their fingers in their own ears to block out ideas they dislike, but they have no right to tell other students which ideas are acceptable.
From the No Platform policies still held by many universities, which ban extremists and fascists from debating with union affiliates, to this new crackdown on pro-life students, restrictions on free speech at British universities are growing by the day. What the student-union censors fail to realise is that not only do such clampdowns repress those being silenced, but they also prevent other students from hearing them out, arguing with them and drawing their own conclusions. The attempt by the Cardiff students’ union to silence pro-lifers tramples on the very qualities universities are supposed to cultivate in students – free-thinking, intellectual robustness and the courage to face the ideas they seek to challenge head-on.
Ivor Jones is a student and writer based in Brighton.