Image credit: Milo Dennison

SU VP among Oxford Students for Life stall protesters

TW: Abortion

On Thursday 5 October several students, including an SU sabbatical officer, protested the presence of Oxford Students for Life at this year’s Freshers’ Fair.

The anti-abortion group carried signs at their stall this year with slogans such as “life is a right, not a privilege”. Protesters held up similar signs stating “abortion is a human right”.

The peaceful protest included Mia Clement, the SU’s VP for Activities and Community.

Government guidance for universities published in 2019 advised that “an SU should make sure a wide range of views are represented at freshers’ fairs”. A leading SU sabbatical officer’s presence at a protest of one of the stalls is a potential cause for controversy.

Given her involvement in the running of the fair, it was a bold decision for Clement to make.

When approached for comment, the Oxford SU stated: “Oxford SU is a supporter of the right to peacefully protest and the right of students and groups to hold diverse philosophical beliefs in line with the law. Both groups of students were able to exercise those rights this afternoon.”

The protest mirrors the proceedings of past Freshers’ Fairs. Last year a similar protest took place. Protesters in 2021 physically removed the stall and its contents from the fair in a black bin before being stopped by security.

The 2022 protest was in the wake of the SU’s announcement that it intended to place warnings on stalls with “potentially triggering content”. However, the trigger warnings were made opt-in by the SU ahead of the Freshers’ Fair, so no warning was in place for OSFL’s stall.

It is believed that no similar warning was made to reassure students for this year’s event.

Oxford Students for Life’s website states that the group “advocat[es] the protection of human life and dignity from conception to natural death.”

OSFL said in a statement to The Oxford Student: “The Freshers’ Fair is a fantastic opportunity for young people to find like-minded individuals, and we at Oxford Students for Life maintain our annual presence in accordance with our mission: to promote a culture of life at the university and beyond. Numerous people of all ages and positions in the university approached our stall this year to sign up, thank us for being there, express appreciation and support for what we do, or ask how they can access the Student Parent Support we offer. All the conversations we had at our stall, including those with people who disagreed with our position, were insightful, respectful and valuable (we hope to both sides). Because of this, we are saddened by the fact that, in the eyes of some, our presence requires protest. What is more, in light of recent years’ events, we find it regrettable that SU officers deem it acceptable to behave in such an explicitly political manner. Nevertheless, we support and respect others’ rights to voice their views and protest peacefully, as we do our own.”

The Oxford SU Women*’s Campaign responded with their own statement via Instagram to “make it abundantly clear that [their] stance is always pro choice.”

In a long post going into detail on the reasoning behind their stance, they explained that “when basic healthcare like abortion is criminalised, all it serves to do is harm those who don’t have the means to access it illicitly, thus gatekeeping it for the elite echelons. To what end? Eschewing reproductive rights is just another way to subjugate women* and to control their bodies.”

They concluded their statement by saying, “we should let the very people whose bodies we are debating about to make their own decisions. Abortion liberates and saves lives, not ends them.”