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Ban on student pro-life societies at Strathclyde repealed

1 November 2018

 
Strathclyde students in December 2016, when USSA introduced the clause banning pro-life societies.

The clause was a form of direct discrimination against the group of students

In a victory for freedom of speech at universities, the University of Strathclyde Students Association (USSA) has voted to remove the clause in their "No platform to anti-choice!" policy which had prevented pro-life groups from affiliating with the union and being active on campus.

A ban on "anti-choice" groups

The policy, which was introduced in December 2016 in response to attempts to affiliate a pro-life society, stated: "Anti-choice groups actively use intimidation and fear tactics to harass people entering abortion clinics.

"The establishment of anti-choice groups at Ussa would directly contravene equal opportunities policy by giving them a platform to harass students. This in turn violates their safe space.

"Allowing an anti-choice group to form would be a barrier to freedom, equality and body autonomy for those with uteruses on campus."

Challenging discrimination

However, in March 2018, Strathclyde Students for Life (SSfl) , challenged the legality of the no-platforming policy, arguing that USSA had violated section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 by directly discriminating against a group of students based on their beliefs. SSfL also argued that the Students Association had violated the students’ right to Freedom of Expression, which is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Following the legal complaint, the Board of Trustees at USSA came to the conclusion that the clause was a form of direct discrimination against the group of students and that such discrimination was contrary to the equal opportunities policy of the Students Association.

In order for the no-platforming clause to be removed from Union policy, the matter then had to be brought to Student Parliament, who voted to remove it on Tuesday night. 

What next?

Catherine Farrelly, the President of Strathclyde Students for Life said: "We only want to start a conversation about Life Ethics on campus, to discuss the moral and ethical issues surrounding abortion and euthanasia. We also want to ensure that women on campus know that abortion is not the only answer, and that we are here to offer support and care for women in crises.

"Soon, we’ll be sending off an application to affiliate as a society," Catherine added. "Now it’s up to USSA to follow through with their decision. We expect no hiccups from here on."

Jamie McGowan, who acted as a legal advisor to SSfL said: "Ultimately, this is a victory for academic freedom. Universities are meant to be bastions of free thought and this "no platform" clause discriminated against a group of students because of their beliefs, which are protected from discrimination."

Reaction

Many groups have welcomed the victory for SSfl, who have been struggling for official recognition for nearly four years. Madeline Page of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, which was subject to inaccurate and defamatory claims in the "No platform to anti-choice!" policy, said she was proud to support the students at Strathclyde and hopes "to see similar decisions in other student unions that have denied pro-life student groups affiliation." (The Aberdeen Life Ethics Society were recently denied affiliation with the Students' Union citing a policy that "no-platforms" any group opposing abortion.)

John Deighan, CEO of SPUC Scotland, said: ""The students at Strathclyde University are to be commended for upholding the importance of free speech in a democratic society.

"I understand that some with a different perspective on pro-life issues still saw that the principle of open debate had to be supported.

"This is a hopeful sign that the intolerance to differing views on abortion and other socially contentious issues will no longer be permitted to silence reasoned debate. Those who hold the pro-life position have no fear of genuine debate and of all places a university should be a place which welcomes such an attitude."

News in brief:

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