Controversy ignites over speakers brought to the University by anti-abortion Students for Life society


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.”

Photo: Nigel Hanlon / Flickr
Photo: Nigel Hanlon / Flickr

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.

Jo Boon.
Jo Boon, coordinator of the Feminist Society.

“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.”


  1. It was a great privilege to speak last Thursday on the Post Abortion work of ARCH and when ‘choice’ becomes coerced. On Friday Joseph Cassidy phoned to ask some questions which he said he would email to me as I was about to head home. He asked if I had ever commented on the Herald Website as some comments had been found which he or someone else didn’t like, I wasn’t sure what comments he could possibly be taking exception to so he said he would email them to check they were indeed mine. Mr Cassidy also said, when asked, that he had attended part of the talk. So, here are three questions for The Saint:
    1]Why did the email never arrive, even after I emailed him to ask that?
    2]What were the reasons behind NOT mentioning the very strong, pro-women, compassionate, non-judgmental message from my talk, and in particular, ignoring the crucial question which would unite all feminists regardless of our views on abortion, what can we do to prevent women being pressurised or coerced into abortion?
    3]Can I have some space in The Saint to reply to the article above?

  2. Funny that the President of FemSoc should be defending such a powerful tool of the patriarchy; perhaps one day she will realise that abortion is just an excuse for society not to address the “problems” that unwanted girls and boys present and that they should actually empower women to carry on with an unplanned pregnancy…

    Meanwhile, Sr Roseann Reddy is criticised for trying to provide that empowerment for women who are courageous enough to say yes to the problems of unplanned pregnancy; all she is saying is that women should know what termination involves so they can make an informed choice, but such requirements are invariably opposed by the abortion industry as No Termination = No £££.

  3. Today is the 49th Anniversary of the Abortion Act receiving Royal Assent. According to the latest government statistics, 8,042,157 babies have been killed by abortion since 1967. Not only does this go far beyond what the supporters of the act intended, it shows that when abortion is made acceptable in even limited circumstances, the defence against killing any unborn child is torn away.

    The irony is that people who support ‘choice’ don’t want this discussed or alternative viewpoints expressed…

  4. The only ‘controversy’ in question is the one the author himself has decided to generate by writing this tosh. No one, and I do mean no one, had ever been bothered by the activities of the Pro-Life Society before–save for those few radicals for whom the very existence of such a society is anathema–until Joseph Cassidy decided to write up some clickbait. Considering this is a man whom I have heard declare, that he will not leave St Andrews until he has become a ‘hate figure’, is one really surprised, though?

    The journalistic standards of the article itself are appalling–observe, for instance, how it entirely misrepresents both named speakers (e.g. the first comment above, the one from MS Bremner herself), and focuses on allegedly controversial claims made by them elsewhere, as opposed to anything said or done at an event in St Andrews. And here I should point out that the author really must not have much social interaction beyond the echo chamber of his ideologically homogeneous circle of friends, if he really sees such admittedly conservative opinions as utterly and completely beyond the pale.

    This is by for not the first hatchet job by Joseph Cassidy against a society which he opposes ideologically, and it really boggles the mind why the rest of The Saint’s editorial board continue to allow him to use the supposedly neutral News Section to push his personal agendas. If I were them, I would seriously consider the potential long-term damage that this dies to the paper’s reputation, which by far outweighs the short-term benefits of lucrative clickbait.

    As the the Pro-Life Society, I commend them: anyone who has had his name ignominiously dragged through the mud by Joseph Cassidy’s vindictive drivel should proudly wear that fact as a mark of honour.

  5. I think it’s a shame that the article doesn’t attempt to hide what is otherwise clear bias. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to actually entertain the pro-life argument and where it is coming from or what values it might have. The journalist has been keen fixate on the abortion debate whilst omitting the fact that the society has arranged other talks concerning euthanasia and the death penalty. Regardless why is controversial that a student society stimulate debate? Has our generation really such contempt for free speech? I commend Carlone Christie’s comments and example of defending whatever free speech remains in the university setting. The Saint can do better than this!


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