Trinity Bursar cites freedom of speech to silence Women’s Campaign protests

Beth Price 8 May 2014

CUSU Women’s campaign group were silenced yesterday by Trinity’s bursar as they protested outside a debate on abortion, protesting against what they called the “damaging bullshit” of ‘pro-life’ groups who claim that abortions discriminate against disabled babies.

Protesting outside the Winstanley Lecture Theatre against the debate ‘Abortion on the grounds of disability?’, the campaign group were told by the bursar of Trinity College that due to their rights under freedom of speech they were allowed to campaign against “anti-choicers”, but they would have to be silent. In response, they moved back outside the gates to continue protesting vocally.

The motion of the debate, co-sponsored by Cambridge Students for Life and MedSoc, was that genetics and disability should not be used as a grounds for abortion.

In a press statement by some of the pro-choice protestors, they noted: “While the debate may seem harmless, it isn't. It's part of a damaging set of new tactics by anti-choice groups to legitimise a platform that obstructs and destroys access to reproductive rights.”

“To smear those who support reproductive and abortion rights as anti-disability is dishonest, underhand and disrespectful, and particularly distressing to many of us – as pro-choice, as disabled, as women, as bearers of inherited conditions, as people with a real stake in reproductive rights, as all of these.”

The Women’s Campaign Protest claim that Cambridge Students for Life are “an anti-choice organisation”, who have “co-opted the language of disability rights to give themselves a platform”. They argue that groups such as Cambridge Students for Life attempt to equate the call for abortion rights as being “anti-disability”, with some going as far as to say that abortion’s existence is “anti-women”.

Handing out leaflets outlining their arguments, the Women’s Campaign Protest cited the examples of Spain, where abortion is only allowed in the case of rape or a serious risk to the mother’s health, and Northern Ireland, where it is legal only in exceptional circumstances where the life of the pregnant woman is at immediate risk.

In July of last year there was a Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability, as the current law permits an abortion to take place up to birth (40 weeks) if tests indicate that a child may be disabled when born. This is in contrast to the legal limit of 24 weeks for abortions on any other grounds. 

Speaking to Varsity, Grace Langford and Xavier Bisits, Co-Presidents of Cambridge Students for Life, explained that the evening had been a “respectful, engaging debate into a really important issue”.