The presence of Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) at the Oxford SU freshers’ fair last week was the subject of considerable controversy, resulting in the stall being forcibly taken down by a group of students attending the fair. The Oxford Blue can now reveal that following statements from a wide range of societies, including FemSoc and WomCam, the Committee of JCR Presidents (Prescom) has just released a statement which can be found here. It questions the “University’s decision to allow an anti-abortion stall set up at the SU Freshers Fair” and “the Student Union’s failure to take a clear stance against this stall.” The statement has also been published on the Prescom Facebook page.
Further to this, at least one college’s Junior Common Room (JCR) is reportedly considering disaffiliation from the SU in protest against the presence of the stall at the fair.
The Blue has also learnt several new details of the events which led to OSFL’s presence at the fair. The Blue understands that Oxford SU was informed that the freshers’ fair would be cancelled by the University if OSFL was not allowed a stall. As the fair occurred in University Parks, Oxford would simply have the power to revoke the SU’s permission to use its private property and prevent the fair from going ahead.
This was alluded to in Oxford SU’s previous statement on the matter which noted “Oxford SU also has to adhere to the University Freedom of Speech regulations which we are mandated to follow. This is especially the case for events hosted on University-owned sites, like University Parks. We hope this goes some way to explain the presence of this stall at this year’s fair, as well as every year before.” However, it was previously unclear exactly what the consequences of the SU taking a decision to no-platform OSFL would have been.
There has also been a wide range of student opinion on the issue. One fresher expressed their frustration at the presence of OSFL at the fair, telling The Blue that it was “absolutely diabolical” that OSFL was allowed in a public space and that it was “embarrassing to be part of an institution that would allow people to express these opinions.” However, a JCR committee member took an opposing view, telling The Blue that “it’s completely against the values of free speech for students to destructively shut down a stall whose right to speak should have been protected. Had this happened to another stall, one wonders if the reaction would have been more critical.”
For their part, OSFL said “Many students from all sides of the abortion debate have engaged positively with our stall over the Fair, and we’ve had a huge amount of compassionate and respectful conversations about these ethical issues. We are disappointed that a small group of students decided to take direct action against our stall, and are grateful to those working at the fair who have worked to protect our right to maintain our presence there.”
In response to the Prescom statement as well as reports that the University threatened to shut down the freshers’ fair, a University spokesperson told The Blue:
“The University supports the right of all our students and student groups to express views of all persuasions within the law. We therefore condemn last week’s protest against the Oxford Students for Life stall at the Freshers’ Fair, which was an attempt to deny the right of expression to others. We have a robust freedom of speech policy which states “Within the bounds set by law, all voices or views which any member of our community considers relevant should be given the chance of a hearing.” We require all events held on University premises to abide by this policy.”
Oxford SU declined to comment to The Blue.
We have also provided the statements published by FemSoc and WomCam below:
FemSoc: “Oxford Feminist Society takes a firm stance against the pro- life organisation being promoted at the Oxford SU Fresher’s Fair. The stalls’ ideology is a threat to the safety, health and autonomy of women*. The reproductive policy of the SU to ‘support the rights to choose’ and to ‘campaign and extend students rights of practical access to an abortion and extend rights of choice over pregnancy’ are undermined by having an anti-abortion stall.
If you need support please check here: https://livewell.oxfordshire.gov.uk/Serv…/1458/BPAS-Oxford or reach out to us for anything at all”
Wom*Cam: “In response to the presence of Oxford Students For Life at Freshers’ Fair, we at Women*’s Campaign would like to restate our commitment to ensuring all students at Oxford are educated as to their choices and the control they have over their reproductive health.
We firmly believe that abortion is a human right, and we are concerned that a student society whose ideology revolves around the removal of reproductive freedoms was allowed to promote such views at an SU event. We understand the importance of free speech, but we also think that the resources they were distributing had real potential to trigger students who may have had to deal, or are currently dealing with, decisions to do with reproduction and pregnancy.
Wom*Cam stands in solidarity with all women and people assigned female at birth who have had abortions for any reason, and we urge Oxford Students For Life to consider the impact their message and resources could potentially have on the wider student community.”
Illustration by Elara Oakes