The Corner

Authoritarian Students at Oxford University Get Abortion Debate Canceled

Here we go again. This time, it’s at my alma mater:

A debate organised by anti-abortion group, Oxford Students For Life, has provoked criticism from students.

OSFL advertised the event, saying:  “Last year in Britain, over 185,000 abortions were carried out. What does this say about our national culture? Is it a sign of equality, or does it suggest we treat human life carelessly? Joining OSFL to debate the issue are two prominent journalists.”

However, Charlotte Sykes, editor of C*ntry Living, criticised the event, posting: “Why are both the speakers (apparently) cis-men? They will never have to directly experience an abortion and so are speaking for a group of people they do not represent. Another example of decisions about women’s bodies being outsourced to men…”

OUSU’s WomCam released a statement on OSFL’s debate: This Tuesday, a debate called “This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All” will be hosted at Christ Church, where two men journalists will be joining with Oxford Students For Life (OSFL) to discuss ‘abortion culture’.

The Women’s Campaign (WomCam) condemn OSFL for holding this debate. It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies. By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion.

It is worth saying at the outset that those involved were not “provoking criticism,” but were instead attempting to shut down debate. If Charlotte Sykes considers the prospect of listening “to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies” to be problematic, then she doesn’t have to attend the talk, does she? Personally, I’m offended by witless exhibitionists who run semi-literate magazines, and I daresay that if I were a student at Christ Church I’d probably resent being reminded by Sykes’s preposterous output just how far Western civilization has fallen since Gladstone roamed the halls. And yet, I certainly wouldn’t attempt to shut her up or to prevent her from printing her newsletter or to have copies of her nonsense removed from the college’s common room. Why not? Well, because I’m not a ghastly little authoritarian.

Worse, perhaps, is the news that opponents didn’t just want to prevent the debate from happening, but wanted the organizers to apologize for having proposed it in the first place! The Oxford Student reports that:

WomCam called “for an apology from OSFL for hosting this event and urge them to cancel it” and supported a “disruptive protest” if the event goes ahead. WomCam further added “we also support those within Christ Church who are working to stop the event going ahead”.

Will Neaverson, Christ Church JCR Treasurer, proposed a motion to get the JCR to “request our college authorities and our elected officers to try and cancel an event hosted by Oxford Students for Life”.

Evidently, this succeeded. As the paper confirms:

The Christ Church censors have declined to grant permission to Oxford Students For Life to hold a debate on the topic of “This House believes that abortion culture harms us all” tomorrow evening.

An email sent around the Christ Church JCR mailing list by JCR President Louise Revell stated that the decision of the censors has been not to grant OSFL permission to host the event in Christ Church, for the reason that “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”.

There’s something rather delicious about the archaic language used here: “The Christ Church censors” indeed! 

I was always amused at how steadfastly the university held onto its linguistic traditions. At Oxford, the “terms” (semesters) are “Michaelmas,” “Hilary,” and “Trinity”; one’s adviser is one’s “moral tutor”; bills that one pays to the college are “battels”; internal exams that are taken at the end of the holidays (“vac”) are “collections”; to arrive for the term is to “go up,” to leave is to “go down,” and to be temporarily suspended is to be “rusticated”; etc., etc. It’s just that sort of place. In this case, however, the phrase “censor” really serves a purpose. Censors it seems, is exactly what they are.

I must confess that this makes me extremely sad. I remember Oxford as a tolerant sort of place, in which issues such as this were debated hotly but respectfully and eccentricity and dissent were cherished. Americans often ask me how I got on at college after my politics started to change. Were people rude to me because of my views on the Second Amendment or the National Health Service? The simple answer is: no, they weren’t. Instead, we had our debates and then we went to the pub. A few years after I had left, however, this sort of thing started to creep in. Now, it seems to be flourishing. Between them, Oxford and Cambridge produce the lion’s share of the political, legal, and media class in Britain. That they too have been taken over by the thought police does not bode well for the country.


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