Pro-life student group pursues legal action

15 April 2019

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A Scottish pro-life university group; Aberdeen Life Ethics Society, has taken legal action against Aberdeen University and Aberdeen University Student Association (AUSA) claiming unlawful discrimination and the violation of equality rights protected by UK law.

In court documents lodged on Friday, Aberdeen Life Ethics Society has described the AUSA’s ‘no platforming policy’ as a “naked showing of aggression to any viewpoint that dissents from their pro-abortion world view.”

The ‘no platform policy’ which AUSA currently holds is intolerant against specific viewpoints on campus as it denies particular groups the right to speak at union events or property. It was this discriminatory ‘no platforming policy’ which led to the society’s application to affiliate in October 2018 being rejected.

AUSA holds several official pro-abortion policies. These include the policy to campaign for abortion extension into Northern Ireland and for abortion provisions including the morning after pill to remain free on the NHS. The Student Association has however blatantly pursued steps to censor the pro-life voice on campus as the association decided to oppose the “unreasonable display of pro-life material within campus and at events”.

Lawyers for Aberdeen Life Ethics Society have accused the University of discrimination in its refusal to affiliate the pro-life group under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Furthermore, the lawsuit will request for the court to declare AUSA’s ‘no platforming policy’ incompatible with the existing equality and human rights law and so recommend the pro-life group be granted affiliation and equality with other groups.

Without official affiliation, Aberdeen Life Ethics Society cannot enjoy the benefits of other affiliated groups including the use of campus facilities, a presence at freshers week or the right to apply for financial grants.

Aberdeen Life Ethics Society Spokesman Alex Mason said: “The pro-life position may be an unpopular minority opinion on this campus, but it is fully protected by law. The right to speak freely must be equally applied to all students, not just those who already agree with the majority opinion.”

He continued: “As a society, our goal is to facilitate peaceful and civil debate regarding issues in life ethics. All we ask is for fair treatment and the opportunity to be heard without threat of physical reprisal or no-platforming. In order to do that, AUSA’s discriminatory no-platform policy must be rescinded. We look forward to a quick resolution on this legal challenge, one which restores freedom of speech and association for pro-life students on campus.”

The changing tide

The move by Aberdeen Life Ethics Society comes shortly after a tide of victories for other Scottish pro-life groups. In March of 2019, Glasgow Students’ Union was forced to admit that refusing university pro-life group, Glasgow Life Society, permission to affiliate was a breach of equality law and discriminated against pro-life students. Similarly, in 2018, Strathclyde University pro-life group, Strathclyde Students for Life, won their right to officially affiliate after challenging the universities ‘no platform’ policy.

SPUC Parliamentary Director Michael Robinson said: “SPUC welcomes the legal action taken by our friends at Aberdeen Ethics…and we thank them for their bravery in promoting not only the right to life but the right to freedom of speech”.

He continued: “Universities are supposed to be places where freedom of expression flourishes and is not stifled.  Indeed, places of learning should foster and encourage an exchange of competing and controversial ideas, concepts and viewpoints.”

“The decision and behaviour of the Students’ Association is nothing short of juvenile. Their lack of judgement encourages and leads to a mentality where students do not wish or cannot deal with an opposing viewpoint, which will be a crippling attitude in post-university life."