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Edinburgh University refuses to address Life Society’s pro-life talk in 40 George Square

The Edinburgh Life Society has been criticised by students and several student societies after announcing plans to hold a talk in 40 George Square on ‘the role pressure and coercion play in the decision to have an abortion’.

The University of Edinburgh has declined to comment on the fact that the talk is due to be held in a university-owned space, as well as the impact this will have on students.

Margaret Akers, a member of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), is expected to talk at the event, giving a presentation entitled ‘Abortion and Coercion’.

The SPUC, which has received over £72,000 from US-based anti-abortion groups over the past two years, campaigns for the abolition of abortion.

FemSoc has criticised the event,saying in a statement to The Student: “SPUC relies on harassment and degradation as their main means of promoting their message. 

“Their suggestion of ‘coercion’ within the pro-choice movement is entirely and wholly hypocritical given their previous record of spreading false information, such as the suggestion that abortions are linked to increased risk of breast cancer or infertility.

“SPUC have also expressed and spread anti-LGBTQ+ and homophobic views that same sex marriage is not equivalent to heterosexual marriages and should not be brought up in schools.

“The Feminist Society fully support and defend the right to freedom of speech, but we do not condone the spread of harmful and outright incorrect information or the presence of those who disperse it, especially on the property of an educational institution that prides itself as one of the finest in the UK.”

Life Society’s social media posts about the event have drawn significant attention, with one Instagram post receiving almost two hundred comments, nearly all criticising the group.

The talk was originally scheduled to be held at Teviot Row House, but the society made a Facebook post on Friday announcing that the talk had been moved to 40 George Square.

Sophia Tait, president of the Life Society, stressed to The Student that the event was moved due to a scheduling conflict rather than public pressure, saying:

“Our room booking at Teviot didn’t go through (as they were already fully booked on Monday evening) so we applied for another university space and have updated our advertising accordingly.

“The change of venue is in no way related to public reaction to our event. We will still be holding our post-talk social in one of Teviot’s bars.”

SPUC defines itself as an anti-abortion campaign group, listing one of its aims on its website as: “To affirm, defend and promote the existence and value of human life from the moment of conception until natural death”.

Margaret Akers, an Edinburgh graduate and former president of the Life Society, told The Edinburgh Tab that she plans to give a talk titled ‘Abortion and Coercion’.

She told the publication that it will “explore various reasons why some women feel that they have no choice but abortion.”

Akers cited in her comment to The Tab a BBC commissioned poll from 2022 which said 15 per cent of women polled by the broadcaster had “experienced pressure to terminate a pregnancy when they didn’t want to.”

FemSoc has criticised Akers’ use of the article in her presentation, telling The Student:

“This article’s focus is on the ways is which abusive partners exert control over women through reproductive means, such as forced abortions, not allowing them to have abortions, stealthing etc.

“These women’s choice surrounding their own reproductive decisions must be protected at all costs, not used as a means of aiding the SPUC’s arguments.”

The main finding of the poll expressed in the BBC’s story following up from the poll was that 50% of those surveyed had experienced at least one form of reproductive coercion in their lives, and that a third of those polled had been pressured to have sex without contraception.

In addition, SPUC has campaigned against buffer zone legislation in Scotland and the rest of the UK, organising its members to contact their elected representatives to oppose buffer zone legislation.

According to The Ferret, the organisation has met with four different MSPs since 2021, with the description for the group’s meeting with Murdo Fraser MSP (Con) explicitly mentioning abortion.

Niamh Roberts, Students’ Association president, told The Student: “I understand why this event has surprised and upset many students.

“The Students’ Association’s structures are as such to welcome activity from all spectrums of life, opinions and beliefs. Groups registered with us are peer reviewed at the application process by a committee of students and ensure they align with students’ association policies.

“This does not necessarily mean that they represent mine or other staff’s views. Where students want a change in association policy, they can submit a motion to our monthly Student Council meetings where it will be debated and voted on, becoming policy if it is passed.

“Any student events run in our venues and university spaces will be asked to supply information of any external speakers and we are legally obliged to screen these to ensure we’re compliant with legislation such as the Prevent policy.”

Image Edinburgh – 40 George Square, University Of Edinburgh, Arts Faculty, David Hume Tower (block A) And Lecture Block (block B) Including Steppe – 20140421175025.jpg” by Enric is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

By Joe Sullivan

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