Why Edinburgh’s pro-life society should be allowed to exist
After Spiked reported that Edinburgh is one of the worst universities in the UK for free speech it is more important than ever to defend Life Soc’s right to exist.
Voltaire once said that “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Although Life Soc works and campaigns against IVF, embryo stem cell research, euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is their opposition to abortion which is the most controversial. Therefore, it is this, I suspect, which has caused it to be labelled misogynistic and invited calls for it to be banned.
This is not a question of whether you believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion or not, but whether people have the right to say they are against it.
Yes, there is a limit to what a society should be allowed to represent. A far right society that promotes hate, for example, would obviously be unacceptable, not for the offence it causes, but because it incites hatred and violence explicitly against a whole host of communities, therefore putting said communities in danger of abuse.
As its constitution reads, “the mission of the Life Society is to build a university community in Edinburgh that has a lasting and profound respect for human life from fertilisation to natural death.” This is not in itself an endeavour worthy of suppression, does not cross the line of what is acceptable and is the society’s ultimate justification for opposing abortion.
However, for most of us, we’re like Renton in the first Trainspotting. We don’t choose life. We don’t choose a fucking big television, low cholesterol and dental insurance. We choose abortion. We choose a women’s right to choose. We choose regulated and safe abortions rather than dangerous illegal ones.
To ban pro-life societies in Edinburgh and around the country is wrong because it silences a side of the argument. To win a debate is not to silence the opposition but to convince them and find ways for your argument to overpower theirs.
To ban Life Soc is to mistakenly think that, because we are in the majority of opinion, we have the right to silence the minority. It is like the losing parties of an election not getting any seats in parliament, not allowing different perspectives on issues to be discussed in a mutually beneficial way. This seems counter-productive, undemocratic and illiberal.
Is it better that someone falls into a drowsy acceptance of abortion without understanding why it is important? Or that they choose this view based on the merits of the argument? Without the argument against abortion there is no need to understand the arguments for it.
The abortion debate is a serious one. It involves the sexual health of women and the life of an embryo. There is no category in which the pro-life society exists that justifies it being banned.
University is a place where debate should be encouraged; where our views and opposing views never encountered before, no matter how offensive, challenge us to back up our convictions robustly in order to develop a mature intellect. Edinburgh has to allow this to happen even in the face of opposition or risks losing the very basic educational principles any university is founded on.
The university doesn’t tell us what side of an argument to argue in an essay so how can they have the right to tell us what side to argue in our daily lives? EUSA should come down on the side of free speech and sensible debate, not censorship and anti-intellectualism.