‘This doesn’t promote women feeling safe on campus’: Students react to Exeter pro-life society

Over 6,000 people have signed a petition to oppose the society

Outrage has broken out across Exeter Uni following the resurgence of the pro-life student society, Exeter Students for Life.

A petition has been created, with over 6,000 signatures in under 24 hours, opposing the existence of the society and accusing the Guild of funding hate speech.

Exeter students have reacted with shock to the society, with one telling The Exeter Tab: “I genuinely feel embarrassed to have a degree from a uni that clearly cares so little about my rights”.

In a statement, the Guild said any student could start a society, and that it was aware that people had “different views” around the pro-life society. They add: “Free speech enables students to establish groups with a diverse range of views.”

Although the society has been around since March 2019, widespread sharing on student social media accounts has caused it to recently become thrust into the spotlight.

The society hashtags its Instagram posts with both #prolife and #antiabortion, and its exec is made up of three male and one female student.

One post on the group’s Instagram from Ali, a second year law student and the society’s president, calls abortion “murder”. The VP, Robert Tawse, says: “I do not believe that any woman really wants to have an abortion”.

In a post welcoming new freshers, it says: “Being a pro-life-anti-abortion student is not going to make you the most popular person at uni – but that’s okay”.

Exeter Students for Life told The Exeter Tab: Our student group should enjoy the same rights as every other student group on campus, free of discrimination or harassment.” The group also claimed its members had received death threats.

The Tab Exeter asked students following our Instagram page what they thought of the society.

One said: “The pro-life society is another factor adding to the difficulties that women face in Exeter at the moment. Ongoing incidents of sexual harassment are prevalent, and now an entire society dedicated to telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies is ridiculous. To be a female student at the university of Exeter at the moment is not all that enjoyable”.

Another agreed, saying “I just find it funny that the uni will allow a pro-life society run by men on campus but not look after the life already on campus. What are they doing to lower the rates of sexual assault on campus, since we’re the highest in the country?

“I understand that the Guild have to allow the society to have free speech but it does not need to be affiliated and funded. They would not allow a society which promotes racism and other hateful forms of speech, and I can’t see how this is any different. A women should be allowed choice and I don’t think these privileged men should be allowed to call it ‘murder’.

“This does not promote women feeling safe and respected on campus and will further damage the reputation of the uni. I genuinely feel embarrassed to have a degree from a uni that clearly cares so little about my rights.”

An additional student wrote about the religious implications of the society, saying: “It’s so weird how they weaponise religion. Out of the 600 laws of Moses, not one of them has any commentary on abortion, nor does the rest of the Bible say anything about it. Genesis actually says that life begins at first breath. I don’t like how they are under the guise of religion, trying to twist Christianity into their misogynistic arguments.

“Furthermore, a lot of people are talking about the society being an expression of “freedom of speech” -if there was interest, do you think the Guild would condone a ‘Homophobia’ society? An ‘All Lives Matter’ soc? No. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, but this is a very backwards and counter-productive move. Freedom of speech is important, but not when it limits people’s freedom.”

One man said: “As a man, it upsets me that the male committee members think they have any right to speak down to someone who has an abortion. Having known people who have had them, it is such an emotional hit, and one of the hardest decisions to make; for them to simplify it into bullet points is disgusting.”

However some had a different opinion, with one student writing: “I disagree wholeheartedly with their stance but why should the society be banned? They should be allowed their right to free speech and everyone is allowed an opinion”.

An Instagram account called @safesexe has released an open letter against the pro-life society.

The student behind the account, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Exeter Tab: “We do not believe that ESFL is a society that should be receiving any form of funding or accreditation from the Guild.

“Regardless of if somebody decides to have an abortion or not, they should have a right to have complete control over the decisions that they make about their body. It is deeply saddening to see this society be accredited when the Guild have been working to improve gender safety and equality on our campuses. We are concerned about the impact that a society like this could have on the mental well-being of many students.”

In a statement, Exeter Students for Life told The Exeter Tab: “As a society we speak up for and take a stand for the rights of pre-born children, 200,000 of which lose their lives to abortion every year in this country. We aim to equip pro-life students to advocate for the pro-life position and to provide a space to discuss the issue respectfully and sensitively. We also aim to support prospective and current student parents, as well as those who may be suffering post-abortive trauma.

“The UK has traditionally been a bastion of free speech, but in recent years that has been eroded and the trend has been reflected in over 100 of our universities. Pro-life groups in particular have been targeted and faced attempted censorship for valid beliefs held by many across the world.

“Our student group should enjoy the same rights as every other student group on campus, free of discrimination or harassment. The death threats made against members of our society are completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing. We have contacted the university. We would like them to take immediate action on this.

“Exeter University must be a marketplace for free thinking, which is what universities are designed to be. As George Orwell said: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.’