Scottish pro-life student group investigated, but no action taken

The University of Aberdeen. Credit: SilvanBachmann/Shutterstock.

After complaints that a pro-life event held by the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society violated a ‘safe space policy’, an investigation has resulted in no action being taken against the pro-life group.

Ales held an event March 12 called “Does Abortion Violate Human Rights?”, about which some students at Aberdeen University complained. Among the complaints were that it included “highly graphic material,” the Gaudie, Aberdeen University’s student paper, reported April 30.

Ales told the Gaudie that “In response to these unfounded complaints, we provided [the Aberdeen University Students’ Association] with various examples of our efforts to warn attendees about sensitive content. We maintain that these efforts fulfilled our obligation to caution anyone who might be uncomfortable with an honest discussion of abortion (i.e., the intentional killing of antenatal humans by vacuum aspiration, poisoning, and/or dismemberment).”

“Thankfully, AUSA was satisfied with our defence against these vexatious complaints and will take no action against us. We look forward to organising future public events about the ethical importance of human life in the womb, and we pledge to continue to offer clear and explicit content warnings about the grisly reality of abortion,” the pro-life group continued.

Ausa told complainants that “the issues have been raised with ALES and they have provided assurances to AUSA that clearer and more explicit content warnings, and cautions will be issued, prior to showing similar videos in the future,” and that “on this basis we have concluded that no further action will be taken by AUSA against ALES and this matter is now concluded.”

One of those who complained about the event, Martin Le Brech, called Ausa’s decision “very disappointing,” adding: I hope AUSA will thoroughly scrutinise ALES’ activities and listen to the wider University community that is utterly embarrassed such misinformation and graphic contents are regularly spread on campus. We need to make sure our University is a safe space for everybody, free of bigotry and insidious violence.”

And Leah Robb, president of the Pro-Choice Society, said that if Ales “continue with similar events/demonstrations I am considering launching another complaint to AUSA.”

Ales was granted affiliation by the Aberdeen student association in May 2019, following a protracted disagreement.

In October 2018 Ausa had prevented the affiliation of Ales, citing its own pro-choice policy which it adopted in 2017. The policy says, in part, that “Ausa should oppose the unreasonable display of pro-life material within campus and at Ausa events.”

The move limited Ale’s access to funds and venues at the university.

After failing to have the policy changed, Ales filed a lawsuit in April 2019 against Ausa and the university, “alleging unlawful discrimination against the society and the violation of rights protected by UK law.”

In its lawsuit, Ales charged that Ausa’s no platform policy violates the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 by restricting “the freedoms of association and belief for certain students on the basis of an ideological litmus test.”

According to the Gaudie, Ales received “a financial pay-out” from Ausa over the matter.

After receiving affiliation, Ales stated: “We look forward to actively engaging with the student body and working to foster a civil yet honest conversation about the vitally important ethical issues surrounding human life. While there are some intolerant students who wanted our society to fail … we truly believe that there are many more students on this campus who are willing to take a fair-minded approach to this debate. These are the students we’ve heard from all along the way – they may not agree with our position, but they adamantly believe that we should be free to espouse our beliefs on campus.”

Pro-life groups at other Scottish universities have faced similar problems.

In 2018 the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow) lifted a ban on pro-life groups following legal pressure. Strathclyde Sudents for Life argued that the student associaton’s no platforming policy violated the Equality Act 2010 “by directly discriminating against a group of students based on their beliefs.”

Glasgow Students for Life were barred from affiliation by the Glasgow University’s Students’ Representative Council in November 2018.

In March 2018 a joint committee on human rights of the UK parliament noted troubling barriers to free speech at the nation’s universities, writing: “Whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups.”