An abortion debate organised by an Oxford University pro-life student group has been cancelled, after a planned protest was said to threaten security.
Christ Church College retracted permission to host the debate, which was due to feature two prominent journalists speaking for and against the motion, “This House believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”.
Writing in The Telegraph this week Tim Stanley, who was due to speak for the motion at the event, warned that free speech was under assault.
He said: “I would’ve thought that the one place in Britain where you could agree to disagree amicably would be Oxford University. But I was wrong. For instance, I’ve discovered that you’re only allowed to debate abortion there if a) you’re a woman and b) you’re all for it. Any other approach to the subject is liable to attract a mob”.
Speaking against the motion would have been Brendan O’Neill, editor of online magazine Spiked and a columnist for the Big Issue.
The debate, organised by Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) was strongly criticised by the University’s Women’s Campaign society.
Neil Addison, a barrister and national director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, said the college’s decision not to host an abortion debate was unlawful under the Education No 2 Act 1986, which guarantees freedom of speech in universities.
He added: “If there were concerns, then the police should have been informed to prevent intimidation of the debate”.
OSFL has failed to find an alternative venue to host the event and in a statement expressed disappointment, saying: “We only expected to have the same rights of expression as any other Oxford student society, and we’re disappointed that scare tactics proved successful.”
The group said they had received many messages of support including from pro-abortion supporters.
Several “said that we should have been able to hold this debate, including Ann Furedi, who personally expressed her solidarity with OSFL”. Furedi is the chair of Britain’s biggest abortion provider BPAS.
The group added: “Our society exists to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, including the unborn, elderly, and disabled. We think it is essential that Oxford University allows an open debate on these issues.
“We’re confident that most Oxford students would prefer free speech to censorship, and we look forward to continuing this hugely important conversation.”