Pro-life controversy at Freshers’ Festival

Ciara Berry, Colm Murphy and Hannah Graham 10 October 2014

The pro-life group Cambridge Students for Life were at the centre of controversy at the Freshers' Festival regarding the distribution of pro-life material. 

Among the material available at the CSFL stall were copies of Pro-Life Times and information that claimed abortion could lead to a higher risk of breast cancer.

An example of the material on the CSFL stall                                                Photo: Nina de Paula Hanika

Members and guests of the CUSU Women's Campaign, alongside other stallholders approached CSFL and expressed concern regarding the stall’s material. They then proceeded to put up trigger warnings and distribute pro-choice material.  

The Women’s Campaign wrote a Facebook post warning that the CSFL stall had potentially distressing images and said, “If you're at the fair and feel upset or triggered by them you can come to the women's campaign stall and we'll do our best to help.” They also took pictures of people holding up sheets of paper explaining why they were pro-choice.

However, students commenting on this Facebook post have accused the Women’s Campaign of being aggressive, and claimed that CSFL did not act as has been reported. Georgina Ogilvie said that the society had described itself as a “non-religious discussion group welcoming people with all different opinions on the issue.

“The two [people] I spoke to were very reasonable and not in favour of making abortion illegal, merely getting scientific facts and information out to women undertaking the decision – battling the media's interpretations.”

Another student described how a friend on the pro-life stall had come home “crying after a full day of what sounds like pure bullying from the people claiming to be part of the Women’s Campaign”. She also accused the Women’s campaign of stealing leaflets.

In addition to the initial conflict regarding distribution of pro-life material, CUSU Women’s Officer Amelia Horgan, in a statement on the Women’s Campaign Facebook page, claimed that there was a “homophobic personal attack” on a student by a committee member of Cambridge Students for Life, and that she had received complaints of “aggressive behaviour”.

Horgan then went on to also claim misinformation regarding a Varsity article that described the situation as a "clash", specifically between CUSU Women's Campaign and CSFL.

Using the Women’s Campaign Facebook page, Horgan commented, "We had a responsibility to counter this misinformation and scare-mongering and, as such, gave out pro-choice materials… Other societies at the event chose to stand in solidarity with us and also handed out materials."

Hannah Graham reiterated the fact that the negative reaction to CSFL was not solely expressed by the Women's Campaign. She said, "I chose on my own account to be involved in the pro-choice campaigning, as did a large number of students from a variety of societies. 

“To suggest that this was just a case of one student society clashing with another would be to ignore the widespread shock I encountered, both from freshers and stallholders, sparked by the CSFL stall. The sheer outrage and distress vocalised by many at the fair resulted in a diverse group of students being keen to oppose CSFL." 

Another student involved in protesting against CSFL, Jasmine Hackett who is not associated with the Women’s Campaign, added: “Had they been doing what they claimed was their aim – providing accurate medical information about abortion and its effects – I would have been on board. However, from their emotive leaflets and their false claims that ‘science has proved that life begins at conception’ and ‘it’s true that abortions have long term negative effects on health’, it was clear that their intention was not to educate without bias.”

When asked for comment, the CUSU Women’s Campaign issued the following statement:

 “The Women’s Campaign is a pro-choice organisation… We believe in equal and fair reproductive justice for all. We do not believe that abortion is always the best solution for those facing unplanned pregnancies. We especially respect that many may not choose abortion for themselves, and have worked closely with student parents here at Cambridge to campaign for provisions that mean, should someone find themselves pregnant during their degree, we hope that their decision to carry that pregnancy to full term would not be affected by whether or not they would be able to stay in education. 

“This demonstrates a far greater commitment to supporting people who chose pregnancy than CSFL does. CSFL is unable to demonstrate how they respect anyone’s individual economic, social or health circumstances when faced with potentially choosing abortion, merely that they advocate always carrying a pregnancy to term, whatever the context. They are unable to answer simple questions with regard to how their opinions affect trans people or those who do not fit into their extremely heteronormative understanding of reproductive justice.”