I shouldn’t have been aggressively reminded of my abortion at Freshers Fair

Cambridge Students For Life have no place at a fair that’s meant to welcome new students

a-levels abortion Cambridge Students for Life CSFL CUSU Feminism Fresher Freshers Fair rowan williams trigger warning women women's campaign

It struck me with great irony as I came across the Cambridge Students for Life stand at the Fresher’s Fair that my abortion was actually the only reason I was here to see it.

My hypothetical child would have made its grand entrance in the midst of my A Levels, and I seriously doubt my ability to scrape an A* from the birthing stirrups.

I am a confident woman and assertive feminist. I have no shame in saying my abortion was the best decision I have made in my life so far.

I know my rights and I am proud to have utilised a resource we fought for centuries to obtain, a resource still denied to women across the world. It crosses my mind only once in a blue moon, and never tinged with regret.

Welcome to Cambridge

Welcome to Cambridge

Despite all these things, it’s difficult to explain the emotional impact of Pro-Life campaigning when you’ve actually had an abortion.

I feel deeply uncomfortable and upset when I encounter it. I know what I did was right for me, but no amount of thick skin can fully protect you from the thinly veiled accusation that you are a killer.

This is the difference between the CSFL stall and the other conflicting political or campaigning societies which may exist at the Fresher’s Fair.

They’re not just promoting a different tax system or foreign policy to you; their value system is impossible to separate from the extreme indictment it makes on your private choices about the most personal aspects of your body.

The emotional trigger of their material is therefore profound to even the most self-assured young woman. Photographs of something that once lived inside you, referred to as your “baby”. The terminology of “life,” “protection,” and “destroying,” the implicit but blatant suggestion that you were once responsible for a life and you ended it for your own, comparatively inconsequential, reasons.

Some would say it’s my own responsibility to ignore the stand – after all, offence is taken, not given, right? Yes and no – none of this is to say that CSFL shouldn’t be allowed to exist, or to hold debates in their own time and venue.

Rowan Williams who is due to speak at a Cambridge Student's for Life event later this term

Rowan Williams who is due to speak at a CSFL event later this term

Their decision to ignore the rights that women across the world have spent centuries battling for is their own. Cambridge has become the great establishment that it is off the back of debate and intellectual diversity, and students have the right to any opinion they want.

What we need to consider is that this isn’t about the freedom to express an unpopular view, but the need to protect already vulnerable and overwhelmed Freshers from misinformation and potentially emotionally triggering material.

Whilst pro-life is the minority view, abortion is still an astonishingly taboo issue even amongst the most progressive groups. It’s incredibly rare for a woman to be able to admit to one, much less without a sense of shame or even repentance.

This culture of silence means abortion must be discussed in purely objective terms, making it almost impossible for the real damage that CSFL could have done to be revealed.

The Women’s Campaign and other stalls are therefore left to defend their response with speculation – this “might” upset some freshers, there’s a “potential” trigger warning.

The Women's Campaign's trigger warning

The Women’s Campaign’s trigger warning

I have no shame in admitting that I am one of the 1 in 3 of us who have, or will, experienced abortion.

I will happily confirm the speculations of the other Cambridge students and societies who’ve written to complain about the stall; yes, it’s extremely upsetting; yes, it’s offensive to my personal choices; yes, CUSU should have a responsibility to protect us from feeling this way in their very first few days.

The guilt, secrecy, and self doubt imposed on people who’ve undergone abortions causes us to have a suicide rate almost six times higher than others, and a far stronger inclination towards clinical depression and other mental health conditions.

So let’s grow up, stop using this serious issue to score cheap points against the Women’s Campaign and even CSFL themselves under the arrogant pretence of serious debate, and consider instead the genuine emotional wellbeing of brand new students.

The Fresher’s Fair is about students finding their people, discovering new skills, and opening doors.

Let’s let next years’ cohort leave with free pizza, endless mailing lists, and no personal attacks on their most difficult and heartbreaking personal life choices.