A member of the Women's Campaign standing up for reproductive rights.CUSU Women's Campaign

Controversy broke out at the CUSU Freshers’ Festival between a pro-life student group and CUSU Women’s Campaign.

The Facebook page for the latter organisation posted to warn that a “student anti-choice group” had set up a stall at the Freshers’ Festival. The Women’s Campaign claimed that they had heard reports of “aggressive” and “homophobic” behaviour from the group Cambridge Students for Life (CSFL), as well as pictures of foetuses.

The Women’s Campaign encouraged women “upset” by the group’s presence and behaviour to come to their stall and also posted flyers warning attendees of the anti-abortion group, which read: “WARNING for anti-abortion rhetoric & misogyny”.

Other attendees, however, have claimed that the Women’s Campaign overreacted to the situation. Commenting on the original Facebook post, Georgina Ogilvie said that the society had described itself as a “non-religious discussion group welcoming people with all different opinions on the issue” with two “very reasonable” student representatives.

Another student seconded Ogilvie’s comments. She described how a friend on the pro-life stall had come home “crying after a full day of what sounds like pure bullying from the people claiming to be part of the Women’s Campaign”.

The Women’s Campaign was accused of stealing leaflets, putting up misleading flyers and “aggressively talking to committee members under false pretences”.

Cambridge Students for Life confirmed allegations of leaflet-stealing and harassment by the Women’s Campaign, and denied they were displaying triggering imagery, only “information based on the latest embryology and NHS figures”.  

They described the accusations of homophobia as “staggeringly implausible” and “little more than a desperate attempt to get CUSU to throw us out of the fair.”

A representative said: “This is Cambridge, and students – whether feminists, ethicists or medics – deserve a serious dialogue that does justice to these important issues, rather than cheap point-scoring and a mentality that sees debate as a form of "violence"."

Amelia Horgan, CUSU Women’s Officer, said a complaint was made to CUSU about a “homophobic personal attack on a student by a committee member of Cambridge Students for Life”.

The Women’s Campaign aimed to ensure that “all students were warned about their presence, and to defend the Women's Campaign's commitment to bodily autonomy and reproductive justice,” Horgan continued. They also distributed pro-choice and reproductive material from their stall to counter the “misinformation and lies about abortion” spread by CSFL.

She also accused the group of putting reproductive rights at risk of “erosion”; “This is not an abstract debate - within our own borders women are unable to access free abortion on demand. While Cambridge Students For Life might claim they merely want to 'open up discussion', as campaigners for reproductive justice, we're aware that our hard-fought-for rights are at constant risk of erosion.”

After the original Facebook post, the Women’s Campaign began to post photos of freshers posing with a sheet of paper with “I’m pro-choice because …” and a written reason. These included “my body is mine” and “coat hanger abortions are wrong”.

It is not the first time the two organisations have clashed. In May, the Women’s Campaign held a silent protest and displayed placards outside Trinity College, during a debate held by Cambridge Students for Life, which was focused around disability as a justification for abortion.

Comment: CSFL should not have been given a stall