Pro-Life Student Group Challenges Student Union Ban

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: April 12, 2019

In April 2018, the pro-life student university group Aberdeen Life Ethics Society submitted an application for affiliation to Aberdeen University's Societies Union (AUSA) but was denied due to AUSA's policy which required the union to give “no funding, facilitation, or platform” to any pro-life group and forbids the “unreasonable display” of pro-life material on campus. Aberdeen Life Ethics Society has taken legal action against the University and AUSA claiming unlawful discrimination and the violation of equality rights protected by UK law.

Represented by the Christian Legal Centre, the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society filed suit in Aberdeen Sheriff Court against both the AUSA and the University of Aberdeen, asking the court to declare that AUSA's policy of de-platforming pro-life student societies is incompatible with existing Equality and Human Rights law and constitutes discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

It further asks the court to recommend that the society be affiliated to the students' association, complete with the benefits and privileges that other societies enjoy.

Aberdeen Life Ethics Society described the AUSA’s ‘no platforming policy’ as a "naked showing of aggression to any viewpoint that dissents from their pro-abortion world view" in court documents filed on April 12th. 

It argued that the 'no platform policy' is intolerant against specific viewpoints on campus as it denies particular groups the right to speak at union events or property.

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. 

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.”

"Universities should foster free debate and discussion over important ethical issues like abortion. Unfortunately, there is a lot of social pressure on young people to conform to the pro-abortion viewpoint. For many of us, our pro-life beliefs were forged from our understanding of gestational science, as well as our Christian faith. The ability to express these beliefs must be protected."

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 challenge 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.

Sources: The Times, BBCSPUC and Christian Concern