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.”