Members of Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) were targeted for abuse by abortion activists due to their presence at the University’s recent Freshers’ Fair.
The secular pro-life group had its materials binned and its stall pulled down by activists during the two-day event.
But its President, Anna Fleischer, says the opposition they faced did not stop there.
Speaking exclusively to The Christian Institute, Fleischer opened up about the level of online abuse they faced, and her gratitude to Oxford University for backing the group’s right to freedom of expression.
She explained that the “pile on” of abuse started when they announced on social media that their stall was open. The same people who had been encouraging the online harassment of Exeter Students for Life began directing their followers towards Oxford.
“We started getting a lot of abuse on Instagram. I think it was that which kind of spread the publicity of the fact we were at the fair.
“So on the second day of the fair, the SU asked if they could put a content warning by our stall; that was fine, they asked stalls around us ‘Are you happy being next to the pro-life stall?’ Some of them moved and were replaced by other societies like Oxford Students for Liberty.”
Later that day, four activists arrived and attempted to block people from approaching the stall, before leaving and returning with a wheelie bin to dispose of OSFL’s materials.
“The two committee members who were on the stall tried to take things and put them behind the stall so that they wouldn’t go in the bin. But then [the activists] came behind the stall and started tearing down all the posters off the backboards and then shoved them in the bin and then tried to leave.”
she felt really scared and threatened
While, with the assistance of security, OSFL managed to recover most of their materials, a lot were rendered unusable as they were torn and crumpled.
“It was really distressing, in particular for one of the people on the stall, who said she felt really scared and threatened and that it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience.”
After the incident, Fleischer reported there was “a continuation in the online abuse” until they turned off the commenting function on Instagram.
She said this was a measure they didn’t take lightly as they want people to engage with them, even if they disagree, “but when it turns into several hundred comments saying we should have been aborted, that’s just not really acceptable”.
She added there had also been “really, really horrible comments” made against committee members before the comments were disabled.
Freedom of expression
The University backed them following the incident, which Fleisher said was “really important”, adding: “It’s such a comfort because we know that if the SU weren’t forced by the University to give us a platform, they would not. They would try to do everything in their power to get rid of us.”
we’re not going to back down
She added that while the Student Union attempted to prevent OSFL from exhibiting at the event, “they were told by the University that, if they did so, they would cancel Freshers’ Fair, which was quite nice to hear – that our freedom of expression was that important to the University”.
Fleischer continued: “Officially, the University has been amazing, it’s just the student body that seems to increasingly think that disagreeing fundamentally with the way people decide to live and the things they decide to do is a kind of violence to them and therefore they have the right to silence us.
“But they don’t, and we’re not going to back down.”
Fleischer encouraged other pro-life students facing opposition and abuse for their beliefs to “stay calm and kind”, and to continue engaging in difficult conversations about abortion.
“If we’re not talking about the sort of ethical issues involved in abortion, then we’re just not equipping women to make a choice that they could regret for the rest of their lives and that could cause them an immense amount of pain.
“Whether or not people agree with you, what we’re doing in at least trying to foster a discussion is so, so important.”