Shutting down the ‘Pro-Life Society’ isn’t liberal — it’s the exact opposite

‘No longer is the university an open, tolerant, marketplace of ideas, but a huge, stifling bubble’

argument campus LGOS liverpool uni pro choice pro-life society The Guild

Following the creation of a pro-life society at the University of Liverpool, a former English and Politics student at the university gives us his take on the controversy surrounding a petition for it to be banned by the Guild.

The way the campus majority reacted to the new ‘Pro-Life Society’ is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with student politics right now.  It was oppressive and deeply intolerant — ironically, exactly what opponents of the society claim they want to defeat.

Speaking as an atheist and staunch pro-choicer, the attempt to shut down the Liverpool University Pro-Life Society before they’ve even had a chance to go for an ice-breaker pint strikes me as a pretty a sinister development. Without trying to sound like a badly-damaged record, simply disagreeing with someone’s opinion does not warrant this person being banned from voicing this opinion, no matter how stark or severe the disagreement may be.

Let’s confront this together, fellow pro-choicers. The members of this society probably find your pro-choice views outrageous, too. Morally reprehensible. In some cases, your views are an insult to their deeply-held religious views.

So, if the Guild was to approve a future application from a pro-choice society, should that be kicked off campus, too? Clearly, the answer is no. Because their outrage doesn’t trump free speech — and neither does yours.  When people (like myself) reflect on how wonderful university was, a word we are pretty much guaranteed to use is “diversity”. Diversity of race, religion and nationality. Of accents and hometowns. Of opinion and perspective. 

Campuses are places where opinions should be held freely, exchanged in good will and perhaps even debated where necessary. This is the essence of a mature democracy. It’s the basics, really. But this is under attack. No longer is the university an open, tolerant, marketplace of ideas, but a huge, stifling bubble where any group united by a conservative point of view risks being delegitimised by the opinion police.

Plus, the core principles of liberalism aside, the arguments I’ve seen put forward so far for why the society should be banned strike me as feeble at best in their current, knee-jerk form. 

“We believe this society could be a potential danger to those capable of pregnancy and their rights on campus.” FemSoc said.

Even those suggesting caution towards an outright ban focus not on what the society is, but what it could be:

“They will organise various actions with the help of exterior organisations,” Rory Hughes, chair of Labour Society said.

“This could possibly include picketing at doctors surgeries, hospitals and abortion clinics.”

Evidently, “possibly” is the operative word here.

If members of this new society begin intimidating women at abortion clinics then clearly the conversation being had would be very different. But are we really going to shut down this society on the basis that its members *might* spend their free time stalking hospital wards? What if the humanist society goes a bit too Richard Dawkins and starts approaching believers outside the Sydney Jones to interrogate them on the factual validity of their doctrine? Should we close that society down, too?  Please. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Have some confidence that your peers know how to behave.

At the heart of this campaign are good intentions. I’m sure of that. Students want happy, peaceful universities where opinions you deem unacceptable be can be easily avoided. This is totally understandable.  But the minute you try to control the parameters of what is and what isn’t an unacceptable opinion is the minute you abandon tolerance and embrace intolerance. You feed the very same monster you’ve been trying to slay.