Fury as YUSU’s Societies Committee ratifies pro-life society

An anti-abortionissue250 and euthanasia society ratified last week has been branded “disgusting” by students.

Life Matters, a group dedicated to awareness and understanding of pro-life issues including abortion, euthanasia and embryonic cell research, formed on Friday after being approved by YUSU’s Societies Committee.

But despite similar groups existing at other universities, its ratification at York has sparked a backlash from students and pro-choice campaigners.

Jack Chadwick, the queer convenor for the LGBTQ Network, said: “I think it’s disgusting.

“YUSU choosing to allow it means that they’re going to be handing over cash, and legitimacy, to a group who’s modus operandi is the intimidation of women, and who spread a message that is fundamentally at odds with women’s liberation – shaming women for having control over their bodies.”

Charlie Foley, a second year biochemistry student, added: “Opposing the use of embryonic stem cells is unforgivably reactionary and unscientific.

“When a grown human being is terminally ill it is ridiculous to safeguard the rights of inanimate cells as a priority.”

YUSU’s Women’s Officers Peggy Lockword-Lord and Emily Inglis said they were concerned with the impact on campus healthcare facilities.

“The aims and plans of the society are unclear,” they said.

“But the Women’s Network is concerned about disruptions to campus healthcare facilities.”

Life Matters was ratified alongside 14 other societies and is free to join.

They hold fortnightly meetings in the Library.

YUSU cannot restrict societies on the grounds that they may cause offence or be deemed ‘inappropriate’ by some students.

But according to Louise Livesey, a graduate who studied at York between 1994 and 1998, pro-life groups were banned from campus.

“Occasionally they were allowed to hold an event but the Women’s Officer always ensured that there was good publicity so they could be countered by debate and question and pointing out when their facts were very wrong,” she said.

“I remember being involved in that more than once.”

In a statement, Laura Doherty, the president of the newly-ratified Life Matters, told York Vision: “Life Matters. We believe that every person is important, from conception to natural death. Our aim is to bring a greater awareness and understanding of pro-life issues – including abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research – to the student body through peaceful and rational discussion.

“Parliament is laid out to spark adversarial debate: that’s because it’s long been accepted that a difference of opinion can only add to a discussion.

“We don’t expect everybody to agree with us – but they do have to accept our right to state our opinions and to try to convince people of their merits.

“If people are expressing their difference of opinion on social media, then they’re showing just how important this topic is by engaging with the issues. We welcome people willing to engage in calm and reasoned debate with us on these topics.”

Chris Wall, YUSU’s Student Activities Officer, said: “Society ratification is always difficult. Societies committee, which is a group of individuals who represent the 8 different society groups plus one ordinary member, meet and go through a checklist of criteria such as ‘Unique Demand’, ‘Duplication of Aims’ [of other societies] and ‘Sustainability’.

“These criteria were decided upon in the societies review from last year and are in line with other Unions across the country.

“We want to support as many students as possible to do what they want and being a society isn’t the only way.

“You can be a volunteering project and we also have a budget for those who want to run campaigns. If you want to do something and want YUSU’s support just come in and talk.”

19 thoughts on “Fury as YUSU’s Societies Committee ratifies pro-life society

  1. Those who want this society deratified better reconsider what free speech actually means. The quote from the President of this society says that they want ‘peaceful and rational discussion.’ Don’t see anything ‘disgusting’ about that. A great example of people branding someone intolerant for the simple fact that someone else’s opinion doesn’t agree with their’s.

  2. Anger as Student Union allows group to worry about children and the elderly

  3. “Worrying about the elderly” says Rosanne Yeltsin – maybe the elderly should be respected enough to be given the choice over their own lives.

    And it’s not just the elderly, someone can be terminally ill at any age

  4. While I quite understand where Jack Chadwick and others are coming from, expressing themselves in such a combative manner might be counterproductive. Various anti-abortion (and other) groups in the US have used the backlash against them to generate sympathy. While people might prefer them not to be on campus at all, I don’t think their caused is served by giving them the oxygen of publicity.

  5. I think a pro life discussion society, discussing behind closed doors with people who have gone along to find out about these matters is fine. I don’t agree with it, but if that’s all they’re going to do, they’ve got a right to do so.


    “We don’t expect everybody to agree with us – but they do have to accept our right to state our opinions and to try to convince people of their merits.”

    That’s terrifying. Basically, there’s going to be people going round campus aggressively spreading ideas that actively threaten the university as a safe space for all people with uteruses. We should be fighting that tooth and nail. It’s not adding to discussion, it’s threatening the safety of people.

    Yvette Cooper was talking the other day about stopping these groups from protesting outside clinics etc. Quite right. Why should they have the right to infringe on lives? Free speech goes both ways, and if this leads to a campus where people are scared to walk around on certain days because they know the pro life lobby will be out campaigning, then our welfare systems have failed.

  6. Freedom of speech of freedom of speech – besides discussion and debate on campus is a good things; what’s withe pro-“choice” lobby and its opposition to dissent.

  7. Hiding behind the banner of ‘Free Speech’ to attack the reproductive rights of women is almost as disgusting as the phrase ‘Pro-Life’ in the constant propaganda battle of the religious right.

    This society doesn’t need de-ratifying simply because I believe it will die a ‘natural’ death soon enough; I refuse to believe that it will be able to consistently gather enough paid members to warrant re-ratification or that it will be able to hold a variety of meetings. What are fortnightly discussions actually going to be about other than ‘our position on abortion hasn’t changed since last time’?

  8. Why is it “terrifying” that these people be allowed to state their opinions? As you yourself have quoted from the President’s statement “(people) do have to accept our right to state our opinions and try to convince them of their merits.” How is that terrifying? In a peaceful and rational debate you do exactly what the President here has said – you state your opinion and try to convince people of it’s merits. We go to a £9000 a year university and I see no harm in having the status quo challenged in a “peaceful and rational” manner (quote the President). This society has not said anywhere in it’s statement, or on the YUSU website, that it’s going to have a mass rally outside an abortion clinc. If one applied your argument to another debate it would be clear that the framework which you use for your argument does not work (I don’t need to spell that out with an example – I’ll let you think of one).

  9. Second Year Biochemistry Student declares that an embryo is ‘inanimate cells’. By week 7 the child’s brain cells alone are increasing by 100,000 cells per minute. Seems pretty ANIMATED to me. Whether you be pro-life and pro-choice you cannot describe the embryo/foetus/child as ‘inanimate cells’. As this TED talk illustrates, from the moment of conception the Embryo/Foetus is going through amazing and radical transformation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyljukBE70

  10. To @George

    “try to convince them of their merits”. That’s the problematic bit. Sorry, feel free to exist. But don’t push propaganda round our university.

    I’ll apply it to another situation. If an anti-same sex marriage society wanted to set up on campus, fine. Have debates behind closed doors or whatever. Similarly, I wouldn’t approve, but hey, free speech. If an anti-same sex marriage society wanted to convince gay people of the positives of their argument openly on campus? That starts to sound dodgy.

    It’s a bit like the difference between there being a UKIP society on campus and an EDL one. One’s something I disagree with. The other I would openly feel threatened by.

  11. Ask yourself this
    – What happens if Pro-lifers have got it wrong? – turns out a fetus is not alive, they made a mistake

    What happens if pro-choicers have got it wrong? – turns out all fetuses are actual human beings

  12. We live in the UK and we accept freedom of speech. This is what was shouted about and ranted about during the Hebdo saga and the ratification of UKIP and I think we can all agree that a plurality of discussion is good for well informed society.

    The group has not yet outwardly caused any harm to other people. Their existence may be fundamentally at odds with women’s liberation but you can use the same argument to ban virtually all religious societies from campus. Religious texts as patriarchal views and enforcing gender stereotypes etc etc.

    We live in a society where we allow people and their opinions to be influenced through debate and the outright banning the group would prevent that. We should instead engage and change their opinions rather than prevent their existence. I look forward to that taking place.

  13. @George
    I don’t see why you are so worried about someone trying to ‘convince people of [the] merits’ of a particular view or standpoint. Is that not the purpose of debate? Is that not what many lecturers York and other universities will be engaging in with their students? Attempting to ‘convince’ someone does not (and there is a case that it should not) involve doing so ‘aggressively’. I’d be happy to engage in dialogue with you and in doing so I’d hope that you wouldn’t find me aggressive or feel that I am threatening your safety.
    As for your same-sex marriage point: at what stage did those who have a rational case (and there is a rational case, even if you might not agree with it) for marriage being a male/female thing become obliged to keep their views underground? I don’t recall any part of the same-sex marriage bill requiring the entire population to agree with it or, if they did not agree, to stay in the closet.
    YUSU should be commended for maintaining a clear head and promoting freedom of expression and resisting the ‘no-platforming’ of those who choose to oppose particular liberal (or illiberal) ideologies that has taken place on other campuses.

  14. They think its disgusting to stand up for the weakest in our society, the foetus in the womb and the severely ill and disabled?

  15. Its mind-boggling how somewhere that is supposed to be a hub of knowledge sharing and higher education has a large amount of people who cant see the good in a group wanting to educate people properly about the real truth of what abortion really is, which is most commonly the dissecting of an unborn human limb my limb while him or her is still alive and well with a heartbeat and alot of times brainwaves, or less commonly injecting him or her with a chemical saline solution which slowly burns him or her to death, all this in the warm safely of the womb which is supposed to be the safest place in the world for him or her to be. Its frightening how people are against the facts and the truth being told to others, especially young girls, who deserve and need to be told the truth and the facts for if they’re ever to be faced with a crises pregnancy. Out of pro-life and pro-abortion groups, its the pro-life ones who educate and tell the truth about the facts on everything including early fetal development. Do people not deserve to know these things? Do people, especially young girls, not need to be educated properly about early fetal development and how well developed an unborn baby is alot earlier then alot of people know or would imagine? It is also deluded how so many pro-abortion groups who dont provide women with the truth and the facts think they’re compassionate, doing women a service and think they’ve a moral high-ground over pro-life groups who do.

  16. Whilst I appreciate that those commenting against this society believe that their doing so will protect women’s rights, I do wonder why they’re so scared of competition. To blindly deny your opponent a right to express their opinion is narrow minded and will never allow for progress. It also implies that your own position is threatened: that you’re unable to defend your opinion against them. The examples of being threatened by UKIP, anti-Same Sex Marriage societies all seem to stem from being very reluctant to demonstrate why you are pro-same sex marriage or anti-ukip. Ignoring that people disagree with you doesn’t make you right.

    Similarly, to see somebody on the street campaigning for something you disagree with doesn’t automatically infringe on your civil liberties. You are well within your rights to engage with these people and to learn from one another. There isn’t a black and white / right and wrong answer when it comes to pro-life issues. Nor are pro-life issues primarily concerned with women and abortion.

    Whilst I would not described myself as being pro-life I most certainly would not dismiss their right to express their opinion publicly and can only see benefit in engaging with them.

  17. You know what, I fully support the ratification of that society, and do you know why? Because part of living in a free society is accepting that everyone has differing opinions. If someone holds the opinion that abortion and euthanasia is totally unacceptable, they should be allowed the same platform to express those views than someone who is pro-choice. If we start silencing or censoring opposing viewpoints, we are no better than societies who oppress and censor dissent.

  18. I was very active in York Life Group in the 90s and I well remember when the SU had a significant fund to pay for abortions but could not countenance any grant being set up for baby equipment for a student wishing to keep her child.Then as now York University seems to me to have a strange concept of free choice.Always be aware the very much living unborn child has no choice.Intelligent people need to defend the weak and vulnerable.

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