Gaining Ground: The ProLife Movement on Campus
Niall O Coinleáin FAITH MAGAZINE July-August 2014
Founded two years ago, the Alliance of Pro-Life Students is a youth-led organisation dedicated to equipping young people at university campuses nationwide to start and sustain pro-life societies. The group’s incoming chairman, Niall O Coinleáin, told Faith magazine why he believes the pro-life cause on campus is gaining ground.
The pro-life voice is needed on our university and college campuses now more than ever before; the constant resubmission of assisted suicide bills to the Scottish Parliament and pressure for the same at Westminster is a clear sign of the potential for the UK to follow the same treacherous path as some of our European counterparts. Although introduced for seemingly compassionate reasons, the right to die has very quickly become a duty to die for the elderly and infirm. The increase in non-voluntary euthanasia and the introduction of child euthanasia in Belgium are clear signs of how easily these bills, with an initial narrow remit, are rapidly modified to become a death sentence for anyone of limited economic value or potential.
Current students represent a large proportion of the UK’s future politicians, teachers and legislators. University is where many of these people will develop their standpoint on life issues such as euthanasia – a standpoint it becomes increasingly difficult to change as people progress through adulthood. Unfortunately, at this formative stage in their lives one viewpoint is pushed to the fore on campus, and that’s the opinion that euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and a host of other practices which strip humans of their most fundamental right are good things. It is therefore vital that pro-life groups in colleges and universities exist to counter this view with a life-affirming alternative.
“A survey at one university revealed that, on average, a student was being referred for an abortion every day”
A survey at one university revealed that, on average, a student was being referred for an abortion every day. Although it’s been nearly 50 years since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, it remains crucial that the pro-life message is voiced and heard on campus. Increasing efforts are being made to normalise abortion. Recent video campaigns such as “Women Have Abortions Every Day: It’s Just One Choice”, and one abortion facilitator filming her own abortion, are all part of a drive to further embed the practice into society, to make it seem like the only option worth considering when faced with a crisis or unplanned pregnancy.
In the UK, 197,569 abortions were carried out in 2012. That may be fewer than in the previous year, but it still equates to more than 540 a day. The age group with the highest abortion rate is young women between 18 and 24, the age of most students. Kingston University Student Health Centre ran a survey in 2010 which indicated that, on average, a student was being referred for an abortion every day at the university. An abortion every day at just one university! This further illustrates how vital the student voice is to the pro-life cause.
Pregnant students are, for the most part, absent from our campuses. Last year The Independent carried an article entitled “I faked a student pregnancy and I was horrified by the reaction”. The writer, Ellie House, used a fake pregnancy bump to see what kind of response she would get from fellow students. She describes what happened when she entered the student library: ‘As I returned some books, a gaggle of girls stared at me from their revision corner, nudging each other and pretending to study. Indeed it was girls who looked at my bump as if it might explode any minute, avoiding all contact with me. … As a student, I had every right to be in the library, but my bump certainly did not.”
The article quotes a real student parent, Esmee Thomas from Lancaster University, who describes her experience: “As my bump grew, I felt more and more out of place walking around campus. I even felt too self-conscious to go to clubs. I felt very lonely, not so much because I was pregnant but because there was no understanding. I didn’t feel like I had a right to complain, when I was under so much stress. I didn’t have a right to moan, because I had chosen to stay at university.” Is the assumption that a student who becomes pregnant must want to have an abortion? If so, this assumption needs to be challenged.
It may seem that pro-life students have an uphill battle, but the average student is open to the pro-life message. They simply haven’t heard it or engaged with the issues before.
This is why pro-life student societies are vital, to voice the pro-life message on campus but also to ensure that their university gives adequate support to students who are pregnant or already parents, offering a choice that is best for mother and baby, not just a single option. But pro-life societies face some serious obstacles. Student life is transient, debate on many ethical issues is being closed down and students have a negative image of the pro-life movement. The Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS) was created in 2012 to help overcome these obstacles by building and supporting university pro-life communities united by a lasting and profound respect for human life from fertilisation to natural death.
It’s been a busy first two years for APS, with launches in Edinburgh and London and several other events – including a party in parliament, where our student members had the opportunity to visit Westminster and meet pro-life MPs and Lords. Pro-choice motions designed to silence pro-life opinion on campus are on the increase, and Cardiff Students for Life have had to defeat two such attempts in the past month. APS is there to support students faced with policies that aim to take away their right to free speech.
In the coming year APS will be providing more leadership training for groups across the United Kingdom, and plenty of events are being organised by the existing groups. Our handbook on how to run a pro-life society will also be distributed to groups in the coming months. It may seem that pro-life students have an uphill battle, but the average student is open to the pro-life message. They simply haven’t heard it or engaged with the issues before. APS helps give students the skills to get the pro-life message to their peers, and lots of great events have been organised by existing groups.
These have included a debate entitled “Abortion: Right or Rights Violation?”, organised by Oxford Students for Life (a video of the debate, between Ann Furedi, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and Sarah de Nordwall of Catholic Voices, is available at bit.ly/abortion_debate), and a talk and discussion on adoption hosted by Edinburgh University’s Life Society.
In the coming years we aim to help more groups become established, and to give them the support and resources they need to tackle the challenges facing pro-life groups so that they can become more effective on campus.
In February, over the weekend of our first general meeting, we also trained a group of APS ambassadors who will spread across the UK and are ready to give talks about what APS can do. If you are pro-life and on campus, do get in touch. The future is bright. The future is pro-life.
Niall O Coinleáin, 24, is a student of electrical and mechanical engineering at the University of Edinburgh.