A controversial debate on abortion planned to be held at Christ Church by Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) has attracted widespread student criticism, with the College’s JCR voting to inform college Censors about the mental and physical security issues surrounding the debate.
JCR Treasurer Will Neaverson, who proposed the motion at last night’s GM, argued that the debate was now a security issue, as over 250 people are said to be attending a protest against the debate at the theatre.
The motion, which originally requested the College Censors to rescind their permission to use the Big Boar Lecture Theatre, was subsequently amended and passed by fifty seven votes to nineteen with five abstentions.
Oxford Students for Life, whose mission statement is “Promoting a Culture of Life at the University”, had planned the debate for Tuesday 18 November at 7.30pm.
The motion, “This House believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”, is set to feature historian Tim Stanley proposing the motion, and Spiked Editor and Big Issue Columnist Brendan O’Neill opposing.
Around sixty people have confirmed attendance on the event’s Facebook page, which reads, “Last year in Britain, over 185,000 abortions were carried out. What does this say about our national culture? Is it a sign of equality, or does it suggest we treat human life carelessly?”
A protest group, entitled “What the fuck is ‘Abortion Culture’?”, has been set up in response to the debate, with around 300 people having signed up – the group encourages its members to “take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate’.” The debate is criticised on the group as espousing “really shitty anti-choice rhetoric and probs some cissexism.” The protest is coordinated by the group Oxrev fems, who could not be reached for comment.
OUSU’s Women’s Campaign also issued a statement on the controversial debate, explaining, “The Women’s Campaign (WomCam) condemn SFL for holding this debate. It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies.
“By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion.”
WomCam have also criticised the debate as “shaming,” “stigmatizing abortion,” and “contributing to a culture of misogyny and body policing.” They have also called for an apology from OSFL and have asked them to cancel the event.
In a statement released by OSFL, they have offered to open dialogue with WomCam on the issue and have invited them to co-host a debate in Hilary. However, the Christ Church GM by this point had already concluded that OSFL was culpable of failing to work “with any opposition groups, such as WomCam or the Oxford Feminist Network, to organise a properly contested debate, and, as such, this debate is not ‘free’ in the sense that the attendees and speakers have been chosen with an outcome Already in mind.”
OSFL President Dan Hitchens defended the debate, explaining, “Free speech is a vital principle of a democratic society, and at a university of all places it should be protected. We’re very happy to discuss people’s concerns about the event, but it would be a shame if open debate was shut down.
“While we recognize that this is an issue which affects women especially – and partly for that reason we have hosted two all-women panel debates in the last year — Tim and Brendan are two well-known commentators coming to talk about an issue which has an impact on the whole of British society.”
The Christ Church JCR proceded to mandate the JCR president, Vice President and Secretary to raise the issue in their meeting with the Junior and Senior Censors today.
However, Christ Church JCR also claimed that OSFL had not secured the permission to hold the event in Christ Church at the time of the motion. A spokesperson for Christ Church confirmed they held no booking from OSFL for a debate on Tuesday.
A spokesperson from OSFL told Cherwell, “As I understand it, the final decision rests with the Censors, who haven’t given a decision yet. But the other stages of the booking were all complete.”