Louis Ashworth

Cambridge students have condemned anti-abortion protests held outside St John’s, criticising the campaign’s “deliberately divisive rhetoric”.

The demonstration, held earlier this month, was organised by the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK (CBRUK). The group displayed graphic imagery of aborted foetuses while campaigners interacted with members of the public to “expos[e] the reality of abortion”.

Student group Cambridge University for Reproductive Rights have said they were “appalled” by the campaigner’s use of “graphic, gruesome, and misleading images,” which was “intended to cause distress and polarise the public”.

One student who engaged with the campaigners stated that they had “little to no empathy with the extreme harm that their upsetting imagery, and their outdated attitudes, were causing”.

Sammy McDonald, a second-year History student at John’s who witnessed the protest, told Varsity: “I was sad to see such graphic intimidation of women outside John’s using photoshopped and misleading images, as well as deliberately divisive rhetoric.”

The CBRUK website states that their mission is to “[educate] society on the humanity and value of unborn children and the reality of abortion”. The website has been criticised for its use of graphic imagery and comparison of abortions to genocides.

CBRUK is a British branch of the larger American CBR company. Although the CBR states its mission is not religious, the group claims: “The founders of CBR UK and its staff are all committed Christ-followers, motivated by the revealed love of God for us and for all human beings, whatever their size or level of development.”

McDonald told Varsity: “Protesters demonstrated little to no empathy with the extreme harm that their upsetting imagery, and their outdated attitudes, were causing, and I was disgusted, upon discussion, by the attempts to minimise victims of sexual assault and rape in this protest.”

“Amid growing global threat to abortion rights across the world, students must organise and protest to protect themselves against these wannabe demagogues and defend bodily autonomy worldwide,” he said.

CBRUK was the subject of controversy in 2018 after BBC News revealed that the company had claimed £29,000 in Gift Aid, a tax break that allows charities to reclaim tax on donations from UK taxpayers.

CBRUK is not registered as a charity, despite it being a legal requirement for charities with over £5,000 in income to be registered with the regulator.

CBRUK responded to these claims, stating: “It has taken the Charity Commission a lot longer to get this going but now it has been rolled out we have begun the process of registering through the Charity Commission. It’s not something we have been wanting to put off; on the contrary we have been keen to get on with this process.”

CBRUK found further controversy in 2023 after the group claimed it would “actively” engage with individuals who attended an event organised by the National Secular Society (NSS) on the history and evolution of contraception.

The organisers stated they were “baffled”, and Bob Forder, the presenter of the talk, stated: “Our event is about contraception in the 19th century – which aimed to reduce abortion. It’s bizarre that this group want to picket it.”

CBRUK told Varsity: “We frequently collaborate with survivors of rape. It is heinous to claim that killing their child helps a rape victim. Alleging our images are photoshopped is false and clearly demonstrates that abortion is far worse than its supporters assert.”

“Abortion advocate, Naomi Wolfe stated, “To insist that the truth [showing abortion images] is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy.” BPAS’ Abortionist, Patricia Lohr, proclaimed abortion to be “self-evidently moral” and that performing them was “extremely gratifying.” How can a factual abortion photo “intimidate” if abortion is “self-evidently moral”? We would welcome a public debate on this,” they said.

Naomi Wolfe is widely described as a conspiracy theorist. The Patricia Lohr quote reported by LifeSite News is not verified, and the media outlet has been banned from Facebook and Twitter for its misleading content.

A spokesperson for Cambridge University for Reproductive Rights said: “We at CURR were appalled to encounter the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an American anti-abortion organisation, campaigning in a local public space.”


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“Their use of graphic, gruesome, and misleading images is intended to cause distress and polarise the public about the experience of abortion - an experience which is common, safe, and medically routine,” the group said.

“This same group previously targeted Labour MP Stella Creasy whilst she was pregnant by billboarding her constituency with graphic pictures of foetuses. They campaigned against the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, and claimed almost £30,000 in Gift Aid by 2018, despite not being registered as a charity in the UK.”

“They have compared abortion to Nazi genocide, exploiting the memory of the Holocaust for their anti-abortion agenda, and have compared aborting foetuses to lynching. This latest local campaign runs in the same vein: cruel, unacceptable fearmongering,” they added.