Feminist Society slams Edinburgh University for ‘endorsing’ pro-life speaker on campus
Margret Akers will speak to Edinburgh’s Life Society on the 17th of October
Edinburgh University’s Feminist Society has criticised the university and Students’ Association for allowing the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which supposedly engages in “harassment and degradation”, to deliver a pro-life talk on campus.
Margret Akers, a campaign research officer for the SPUC, will speak to the university’s Life Society on Monday the 17th of October in 40 George Square, a university building.
FemSoc told The Edinburgh Tab that whilst it supports the right to free speech, what it to believes to be SPUC’s focus on women being coerced into having abortions is hypocritical, and a “fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of choice”.
Reacting to the intervention, Akers, who is a former President of the Edinburgh University Life Society, said: “It’s disappointing to see campus life move away from a culture that welcomes the free exchange of ideas, including those you disagree with”.
Akers’ talk will be entitled ‘Abortion and Coercion’, and will explore why she believes women are supposedly coerced into unwanted terminations, following a recent BBC-commissioned poll which found 15 per cent of British women had experienced an abortion they did not choose. The research, however, also highlights that in many instances, women are forcibly prevented from using contraception in the ways they wish.
FemSoc says that discussions surrounding coercion, which “shame” those who have chosen to terminate a pregnancy, “should not be endorsed on university property”.
FemSoc accurately highlights that the SPUC opposes the campaign for ‘buffer zones’ at Scottish abortion clinics – a move supported by the Scottish government that would legally prevent pro-life protestors from harassing those seeking terminations.
They also took aim at Edinburgh’s Life Society, which it says “promotes misinformation and shame around having an abortion and have historically used cases of domestic abuse or sexual violence to aid their arguments”.
The Edinburgh Life Society said: “Free speech should be at the centre of student life and academic discourse”.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, for which Margret Akers works, is currently recruiting for student development officers in England and Scotland, who will build a “network of young people and student activists in universities and colleges across the UK, as well as supporting our educational outreach in schools”.
According to reporting by VICE World News, the SPUC has received £72,000 from anonymous US donors, which is used in part to educate schoolchildren on so-called ‘coerced abortion’.
Akers says she hopes coercion is an area in which pro-life and pro-choice advocates can find “common ground”.
The talk is due to go ahead on Monday, 17 October. It was formerly advertised as taking place in Teviot Row House, the Students’ Union building, but this has changed since the original publication of this article.
The Edinburgh University Students’ Association did not respond to our requests for comment, and the University of Edinburgh declined to comment on this story.
Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, a spokesperson for FemSoc said: “Femsoc have previously commented on our disapproval of the existence of Life Society at the University of Edinburgh. The society promotes misinformation and shame around having an abortion and has historically used cases of domestic abuse or sexual violence to aid its arguments.
“The talk on Monday will be held in collaboration with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). SPUC relies on harassment and degradation as their main means of promoting its message. Their insistence on holding so-called ‘vigils’ outside of abortion clinics as well as their ‘post-abortion help Iines’ to support those ‘who have been hurt by abortion’ shames and imposes guilt on people who have made or have to make incredibly difficult choices concerning their own bodies. The suggestion of ‘coercion’ within the pro-choice movement is entirely and wholly hypocritical, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of choice.“The Feminist Society fully support and defend the question of freedom of speech but we do not condone organisations that spread misinformation, completely disregard those who may not have the financial or emotional stability to have a baby and shame anyone with reproductive capabilities for their past choices. These discussions should not be endorsed on university property.”
Responding to this, Margaret Akers said: “SPUC does not organise pro-life vigils outside of abortion providers, although we do campaign against attacks on the freedom of speech of those who participate in them.
“SPUC, of course, recognises the difficulty many face when considering abortion. There are a great number of pressures on women who find themselves pregnant unexpectedly, and they often feel as though they have no choice at all. That’s why SPUC has initiatives like the Alma Mater Fund, which supports pregnant and parenting university students by providing small grants and signposting to sustainable sources of support – all to facilitate finishing their degree while parenting their children.
“The title of my presentation is ‘Abortion and Coercion’, and in it I will explore various reasons why some women feel that they have no choice but abortion. A recent poll, commissioned by the BBC, found that 15% of British women aged 18-44 had experienced pressure or coercion to have an abortion that they did not want. My talk will include things like: The forms that pressure and coercion can take, the impact this can have on informed consent, and one woman’s story of a coerced abortion (which she has given permission to use in this context). I would hope that the issue of coerced abortion is one where pro-life and pro-choice people could find common ground and share a desire to protect people from this kind of abuse.
“I am an Edinburgh alumna myself, having graduated in 2016. I was president of the Pro-Life Society for two years. I even participated in a FemSoc panel in my final year. In my time as a student, I had countless interesting and challenging discussions on topics relating to abortion, and I am better for it. It’s disappointing to see campus life move away from a culture that welcomes the free exchange of ideas, including those you disagree with.”
The Edinburgh Life Society’s President, said: “The Edinburgh Life Society endeavours to put compassion at the heart of all our discussions of abortion and life ethics.
“This summer, we contacted numerous other EUSA societies, including Fem-Soc, with offers to host collaborative debates and events, which were met with no success, suggesting a lack of genuine interest in robust discussion.
“These attempts are further dampened when our events and speakers are vociferously attacked online before any of the pro-life arguments have been heard. Free speech should be at the centre of student life and academic discourse, and it is disappointing to see that fellow members of our academic community don’t seem to share this principle”
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