We won’t win the pro-choice argument by banning pro-life groups
To win a moral argument, you must first give your opponents the chance to air their views. Most of the time, when you allow your opponents to speak, you allow them to reveal the flaws in their argument. This presents the opportunity to counter them, and win.
Sadly, a small group of pro-choice students at Strathclyde University has denied itself this opportunity. The University of Strathclyde Students’ Association (USSA) has passed a motion to ban pro-life supporters from setting up an official group affiliated to the union. This means students who support anti-abortion views cannot obtain university funding for events, and are restricted from attending campus debates. As a result of this, pro-choice students at the university will miss out on the chance to flex their moral muscles, and make the case for liberalised reproductive rights. They will graduate without encountering opposite views. This is yet another shameful example of censorship defeating liberal debate on UK campuses, and it’s bad for the pro-choice movement.
In justifying its decision effectively to ban a pro-life group, USSA have said: ‘Anti-choice groups actively use intimidation and fear tactics to harass people entering abortion clinics. The establishment of anti-choice groups would directly contravene [our] equal-opportunities policy by giving them a platform to harass students. This, in turn, violates their Safe Space.’
This is silly. When I encounter a view I disagree with, no matter how shocking or offensive it might be, I rarely find myself intimidated by it, or afraid of those expressing it. Student communists at Edinburgh (my university) frequently pester students on campus by flying Cuban flags and decrying the fascist Toryism of whatever they dislike on that particular day. The difference is, most of us – as rational, sensible agents – choose either to engage in some light debate or simply to move along. We’re not intimidated, we don’t feel harassed, and we certainly aren’t overwhelmed by the urge to censor. Student-union apparatchiks at Strathclyde patronise pro-choice students, and women, by telling them they’re too fragile to hear the pro-life argument.
But USSA went further: ‘Allowing an anti-choice group to form would be a barrier to freedom, equality and bodily autonomy.’ Not content with declaring the entire campus a Safe Space, USSA also wants to treat campus as if it were an abortion clinic. Just as a student saying ‘hang on, I’m not sure about the benefits of vaccines’ doesn’t prevent me from getting a flu jab, hearing a pro-life argument on campus does not prevent anyone from gaining access to abortion services. A pro-life student organisation does not pose the same threat to women seeking abortions as groups who genuinely harass women outside clinics. They’re just voicing their views, as all students should be allowed to do on campus.
The ability to have out, and win, the debate to trust women to make their own choices is being lost on campus. The ban at Strathclyde mirrors a similar censorious move at Oxford, where a debate between spiked editor Brendan O’Neill and pro-life supporter Timothy Stanley was blocked in 2014.
We don’t win arguments by silencing the other side. In order to win the moral case for abortion, we must welcome the pro-life view.
Charlie Peters is a writer and a student.
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