Students at Exeter College have organised a demonstration against an event planned by anti-abortion group Oxford Students for Life.
Exeter students Alice Nutting and Ella Richards have arranged a “peaceful, quiet demonstration” to take place on Wednesday evening in order to “show support for reproductive rights of people with uteruses”.
The OSFL event, scheduled to take place in Exeter College’s Saskatchewan room, has been described as a panel discussion on pro-life feminism, and will feature a number of female speakers including doctor and campaigner Rahael Gabrasadig and charity fundraiser Emily Watson.
On the demonstration’s Facebook page, organisers Nutting and Richards state: “While OSFL are perfectly entitled to hold their discussion, we believe that Exeter College has a duty, especially during term time, to not make its students, staff, or fellows feel unsafe or uncomfortable.”
The planned protest comes two months after an OSFL debate on ‘abortion culture’ was cancelled last term, following considerable student criticism of its all-male speakers.
OSFL defended its decision to host Wednesday evening’s planned event, commenting: “Abortion is a major social issue, and the question is not whether to discuss it, but how to discuss it. [We] believe that it should be discussed sensibly, responsibly, and with special attention to women’s voices.
“Anyone who wants to hear five of those voices is very warmly invited to join us on Wednesday night – whether or not you agree with our stance.”
The anti-abortion group went on to thank the protesters for their “respectful tone”, and added: “To be clear, none of us would ever judge a woman for having an abortion, and we know that it is one of the most difficult decisions a woman will ever have to make.”
English student Alice Nutting described Wednesday’s scheduled demonstration as a “peaceful show of solidarity for anyone who may feel unsafe in college as a result of the discussion”.
Nutting, an administrator of the feminist Facebook group Cuntry Living, continued: “I decided to organise the protest because I was really uncomfortable about the prospect of an anti-abortion group holding a meeting at a place which is ultimately home for a lot of people. 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion before they are 45; statistically there will be students, staff and fellows who have been personally affected by abortion in some way.
“OSFL have the right to hold their discussion but I feel that Exeter is not an appropriate venue. Students in college have been really supportive of the idea of the protest and we’re hoping for a reasonably good turnout.”
An anonymous Exter student also commented on the college’s decision to allow the debate to take place.
“As someone who has had an abortion and not felt like they could tell many people, but went to college at the time for support, I personally feel very uncomfortable and very unhappy about a one-sided pro-life ‘discussion’ occurring in the place that I call home.
“I know college considered cancelling the event when they were made aware and the fact that they have decided that it should go ahead makes me feel deeply unsupported and alone. I am lucky enough that I have a supportive network of friends, however statistically there may well be other students who are feeling much more isolated and in this case it feels although the college welfare system has failed them.”
At the time of writing, 57 people have clicked ‘Attending’ on the protest’s Facebook event.
Last term, an OSFL debate featuring journalists Brendan O’Neill and Timothy Stanley, scheduled to take place in Christ Church College’s Blue Boar Lecture Theatre, was cancelled following opposition from Christ Church JCR and the university’s wider feminist community.
The incident gained national news coverage and provoked considerable student discussion across the university.