Controversy has arisen over the views and statements of speakers invited to St Andrews by the Students for Life society.
Last Thursday (20 October) the society hosted a talk by Clare Bremner, from the Abortion Recovery and Care Helpline (ARCH) on the subject of the “psychological effects of abortion.” Ms Bremner opposes abortion in all circumstances, including in cases of rape or incest. In comments on the Herald Scotland website, Ms Bremner also compared the debate around abortion to that over the death penalty, war and slavery.
In the past year the society has also invited John Deighan, the chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) in Scotland and a former parliamentary officer of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
Mr Deighan, speaking at an anti-abortion rally earlier this year, advocated that women who get abortions, as well as the doctors who perform them, should be criminalised and “sanctioned” according to CommonSpace.
“The consequences would be up to the lawmakers to decide. There are laws just now. People are tried if they are not following laws just now. Then the judges give them the penalty,” he told the online publication.
He also compared abortion access to slavery and institutional racism. Mr Deighan also spread misinformation regarding contraception at the same rally. Despite the weight of evidence from medical experts and scientists that says that condoms are the only contraception that protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, Mr Deighan opposes their use.
He said: “On the science, if people use condoms [for] a year of sexual activity, by the end of it the majority would have conceived. So in a one-off instance of course it reduces the chances of that one off instance of being fertile, but over a year of use it’s very ineffective. So no. It’s rash. It’s irresponsible. It’s shortsighted.”
Mr Deighan has also dismissed those who raise awareness of the suicides of LGBT+ youth as using a “rhetorical device to gain sympathy.”
On the subject of LGBT+ education, he also told CommonSpace, “There is a promotion of homosexuality at every turn and I think that hasn’t helped people.”
Mr Deighan added that campaigns for LGBT+ inclusion are “often an attack on traditional sexual morals in our society.”
He also added that society would “reap the whirlwind” from abandoning old values.
In an article for The Scotsman Mr Deighan has previously opposed equal marriage for LGBT+ people on the grounds that it would damage the “well-being of children and the promotion of family life.” Students for Life has also hosted Sister Roseann Reddy, co-founder of the Sisters Of The Gospel Of Life, pregnancy crisis service set up by the late Cardinal Winning.
Ms Reddy advocates that powers over abortion legislation should be devolved to Scotland so that the practice may be completely outlawed. She has also compared abortion to smoking and said that similar legislation should be introduced to make people aware of the “effects” of the practice.
“With smoking they will show a pair of lungs on the back of a fag packet and say smoking is bad for you,” she told Herald Scotland.
“Now I don’t particularly want it rammed home in that sort of way, but if we really believe in choice, then we have to give women a choice that is factual” she went on to add.
Criticising the choice of speakers, Jo Boon, coordinator of the Feminist Society said, “‘Freedom of speech is a right that is constantly surrounded with controversy.
“Where the line is between expressing one’s opinion and being guilty of hate speech or violating other’s rights, is a line that is not always easy to draw. When it comes to speaking about the pro-life or pro-choice debate, I think that people have a right to articulate their views but that human, and in particular women’s rights, have to be carefully considered.
“I am pro-choice, not pro-abortion, but prioritise the right of a woman to have control over her body and life. The reality of this debate is not between abortion, and no abortions. Rather, it is between safe, legal abortions and back- street abortions. Abortions take place across the world regardless of whether they are legal or not, but [women] simply have to travel for them or have them take place in an unsafe environment. When it comes to arguments that abortion is still immoral in cases of rape or incest, I really don’t know what to say. The debate has moved so far from a point of rationality or human empathy at that point that it can be difficult to engage.
“My priority is the protection of a woman’s right to her own body.”
Defending the choice of speakers, James Castro, president of the society said, “Abortion is indeed a moral issue and a heavy topic, but because many have differing views on whether a person in the womb is a human person, some can dismiss it as a non-important topic and are not able to compare it to other issues such as slavery or racial discrimination. It is because of this diversion that much misunderstanding can take place.
“Also, it is not unusual that some pro-life speakers can be seen as being misogynistic or homophobic, but this is not their message. The authentic pro-life view can disagree with the views of others, but must respect the dignity of the person who holds them. It is unfortunate that many opposers to the pro-life cause believe it to be misogynistic and/or homophobic, [but] admittedly there are also those who are pro-life and do exhibit these flawed sentiments.
“The authentic pro-life perspective upholds the dignity of the human person, no matter their race, views, sexual orientation, or stage of human development.
“As for the speakers mentioned, I cannot speak on their behalf, but I have personally met with almost all of the above said names and even while they advocate traditional sexual practices, I do not see any of them exhibiting these discriminatory labels that were mentioned despite them having differing views from others. As for the Students For Life society, our events have always been inclusive to everyone, and our talks have never exhibited discrimination.”
The Feminist Society’s publicity officer, Dariah Williams, also commented on the speakers, “I think it’s disappointing that the pro-life society would invite speakers with such harmful, hateful views. While obviously I and many of the Feminist Society committee members disagree with their stance on abortion, we recognise the importance of having open, constructive discussions on such sensitive issues. However, inviting speakers who are blatantly homophobic and seek to take contraception away from women does not promote productive dialogue. Instead, it serves to make students feel unsafe in their own home.”
Director of Student Development and Activities Caroline Christie said, “From a societies committee perspective, as we maintain a hands off approach to regulating societies, we do not demand or require a list of speakers or events that societies are putting on.
“All students and societies are allowed to express their own views, however everyone is required to follow and respect both the equal opportunities and zero tolerance policies. This should be made clear to speakers and if an individual feels these policies have been violated they have a right to make a complaint.
“Individuals have a right not be discriminated against for their political or philosophical beliefs. University should provide students with a full experience of thought and an exchange of ideas. As a Students’ Association we believe these ideas should be allowed to be both expressed and to be challenged. However, this is with the understanding that the equal opportunities and zero tolerance policies are followed.”