Life Society holds anti abortion event; FemSoc counters with pro choice solidarity space

On Monday, March 13, the Life Society at the University of Edinburgh held an event with anti-abortion speaker Dr Calum MacKellar.

The event, titled ‘The ethics of the new eugenics: Should we choose to have only healthy children?’ has been widely criticised due to the homophobic views MacKellar has expressed in the past, and the anti-abortion nature of the talk.

The Life Society event was ticketed. Although tickets were free, this limited access to the event, a tactic often employed to avoid protest.

A previous talk planned by the Life Society in October 2022 did not go ahead after disruption by protesting students. 

University of Edinburgh security staff were seen at the entrance to the venue in 50 George Square.

MacKellar is Director of Research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.

He has frequently drawn comparisons between abortions and eugenics, such as in an article titled ‘Paul Ramsey and preconception eugenics’.

Mackellars views on neurodiversity have also been criticised.

According to a joint statement against the event from the Edinburgh University Feminist Society and the Edinburgh University Neurodiversity Society, MacKellar is “misusing autism to support homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic views.”

The statement adds that “he is doing so without even taking the time to inform himself of the condition he is using to falsely evidence his claims.”

Edinburgh University Feminist Society published an open letter to the University of Edinburgh regarding the event.

In their letter, they say: “We as the Feminist Society recognize the right to academic freedoms, freedom of speech, and the entitlement of each individual to their own opinion, and their own interests.

“However, when we represent this University, then we also expect to be represented within it.”

The letter continues: “Time and time again, you have shown a willingness to platform speakers who promote hateful and dangerous rhetoric about marginalised groups, many of which students of Edinburgh University identify with.”

“Our outrage at the presence of this speaker on our campus, amongst your previous film screenings and speakers, is not a question of academic freedoms.”

“It is a question of your duty of care to your students, your willingness to promote hateful narratives, and your complete complicity in the discrimination of students in our own university.”

It continues: “As stated in your policy on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression, ‘while exercising rights of freedom of expression, the University expects staff and students to do so in a manner that treats others with dignity and respect’.”

“Despite not being the topic of Monday’s event, inviting Dr MacKellar and his blatant lack of respect for the queer and neurodiverse communities onto campus disregards this dignity and respect completely.”

The letter has been signed by numerous societies.

FemSoc and Neurodiversity Society also published an addition to the letter, which highlights the impact of Dr MacKellar’s previous statements, incorrectly labelling autism as a “mental disorder.”

“The Life Society’s invitation of, and the University of Edinburgh’s approval of and willingness to accept a speaker who spreads misinformation about autism – which results in dangerous and harmful consequences for autistic individuals – is a clear statement from both the University and the Life Society, that neurodivergent individuals are not, and should not feel, safe, understood, accepted or supported on campus.”

“These acts are ones which we deem totally unacceptable, offensive and ableist.”

In opposition to the event, a ‘Pro choice solidarity space’ counter-protest event was held, in which common misinformation surrounding abortion was discussed and disproved.

The Student spoke to EUSA Women’s Liberation Officer Hope Conway-Gebbie, who delivered a talk on demystifying abortion at the pro choice solidarity space:

“I feel like it wouldn’t have been productive to go along and protest the life society’s event.”

“After last time when they had a reporter there, it became clear that they are looking for this type of attention so that they can feed into this victim narrative and say that their free speech is being threatened.

“I think it’s much more effective if nobody shows up.

“The University has made it very clear in their recent actions that they are willing to open up student conduct investigations to intimidate people who engage in protests on campus as they have with Robyn and another student.”

She continued, “There was definitely an appetite for some kind of counter event.

“We had something similar during the Adult Human Female screening last semester, we had a trans solidarity space… we wanted a nice light hearted environment.”

Discussing the information provided in her talk, Hope said: “A lot of it is information people don’t necessarily know, there’s so much abortion misinformation spread by groups like SPUC, like 40 Days for Life, like the Life Society.

“It’s important to have a space where we address reality.”

University of Edinburgh buildings at 50 George Square (geograph 4557017)” by David Martin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.