A student anti-abortion event was met with over 150 protestors

The protest was organised by the Durham Intersectional Feminism Society

A recently established pro-life society had its first meeting yesterday in a local church, “How to Be a Voice for the Voiceless”, drawing a large crowd of pro-choice student protestors.

Around 150 students protested outside the event carrying placards and chanting outside of the church gates, which were kept closed at all times during the event.

Slogans by protestors, assembled under the event “Free, Safe, Legal Abortion: Protest Durham Students for Life”, included “your backwards views have got to go” “a foetus is not a baby” and “separate church and state”. The Facebook organised events made it clear that neither side wished to caused conflict and told attendees to remain “peaceful”.

Many pro-choice protestors carried placards

Pro-choice students waited for two hours whilst students attending the pro-life event were let out of the church one-by-one.

Opponents of the event were angered at what they believe is the creation of a society hostile to women’s self-determination and control of their bodies. Hannah Brown, President of The Intersectional Feminism Society and 3rd year Classic student, told The Durham Tab: “This pro-life idea is not up for discussion, it should not be up for discussion”. She added it was “scary” to see “the amount of straight, white, well-educated men” attending the event and explained pro-choice beliefs advocate “women at risk” whilst the opinions of students at the pro-life event could constitute a “hate crime”. She made it clear to protesters around her “not to engage” with pro-life attendees to avoid possible confrontation.

Some pro-choice protesters were heard shouting “ugly” and “coward” at event attendees who left the church. Pro-life event attendees were critical of the approach of protesters. Two female attendees, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Durham Tab they felt “intimidated” by the crowd. One claimed protesters blocked her from exiting the church even though she is heavily pregnant. The women also said they wished for “dialogue” and “an opportunity to engage in debate”.

Both sides stressed they respect free speech. Third year St Cuthbert’s student Ella Burrows told The Durham Tab: “They have the right to free speech”, but made it clear she “supports autonomy” over her own body. She claimed dialogue between the groups was hindered, saying: “They do not want us in.”

Several students who were aware of the protest event and who are openly pro-choice, but chose not to attend, criticised what they believe is a “breach of free speech” and “unprovoked verbal aggression”. First year St Cuthbert’s Society student Eleanor Radcliffe said” “I think if they [pro-life] students want a safe space for discussion about issues surrounding abortion, they should be able to do so in a peaceful and respected manner. I did not attend this event as a pro-choice woman due to the fact that I believe tolerance and acceptance of diverse opinions are vital to our modern society.”