The debate sought to open up the ethical questions surrounding abortionXavier Bisits

A group of pro-choice student activists gathered outside Trinity College on Wednesday evening to protest against a debate entitled ‘Abortion on the Grounds of Disability’.

The debate was organised by Cambridge Students for Life, an organisation which privileges the right to life, and Cambridge Medicine Society, and was intended as a supplement to a module in the Medicine Tripos.

However CUSU Women’s Campaign, who organised the protest, claimed that “while their debate may seem harmless it definitely isn’t; it’s part of a damaging set of new tactics by the anti-choicers to legitimise their arguments.” They believe the debate wrongly equated the pro-choice movement (which advocates reproductive rights and the right to abortion) with anti-disability sentiments. They added that “whenever reproductive rights are debated, legitimacy is given to anti-choicers and we put our access to reproductive rights (which are already at risk, and always contested) in serious danger.”

The protesters were prevented from entering Trinity College whilst making noise. Instead, the pro-choice activists held a silent protest, displaying placards and banners outside the lecture hall, before holding a three-minute silence in solidarity with all women who have been denied an abortion.

The protesters then regrouped outside Trinity to chant slogans such as “Not the church, not the state, people should decide their fate!” and “They say ‘No Choice’, we say ‘Pro-Choice!”. The protesters also handed out leaflets to passers-by, from whom they received sympathetic responses.  The protest ended on a positive note, with enthusiasm for future pro-reproductive rights action.

Speaking to Varsity, Grace Langford and Xavier Bisits, Co-Presidents of Cambridge Students for Life, claimed that the evening had been a “respectful, engaging debate into a really important issue”. They argued that the aim of the evening was not to present a strong pro-life message, but to break down some of the “simple dichotomies” which are common in peoples’ perceptions of the abortion debate.

Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the UK’s largest independent abortion providers, who spoke on behalf of the pro-choice side during the debate, was reportedly sorry to see that the protesters did not want the issue discussed. Nevertheless, Langford and Bisits assert that the Womens’ Campaign and other pro-choice supporters “are more than welcome to participate in any future discussions.” 

Lauren Steele, CUSU's Women's Officer who organised the protest, rejected these calls, claiming that "The anti-choice movement seems to have realised that simple hatred won't wash, and now they're hiding their bile under claiming to fight for disabled rights". A statement issued by the pro-choice protesters, derived from the text of the leaflets handed out to passers-by, argued that "Debate is a conversation of power, where the objective is to win: to overpower the other side. This is violence. It is not ‘discussion’."