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Pro-life student group wins legal case

by
31 May 2019

Aberdeen Life and Ethics Society had been ‘no-platformed’

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King’s College, Aberdeen University

King’s College, Aberdeen University

A STUDENT group that is opposed to abortion has successfully legally challenged a ban on affiliation to a campus student union. Aberdeen Life and Ethics Society (ALES) has been granted affiliation to Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA).

The case, launched and supported by the Christian Legal Centre, challenged AUSA’s discriminatory treatment of the student group. AUSA had rejected the affiliation application on the grounds that the student union had set in place a “no-platforming” policy towards any group that held pro-life views.

Aberdeen University has, for some time, included a medical-ethics module within its medical-humanities degree course, in which contending points of view on abortion are studied and discussed in depth. It is unclear how many past and present students have formally studied such views, and have also been members of the group in question, on campus.

ALES submitted an application to the student union in April last year, as a “new society”, for affiliation. The previous November, however, the union had implemented an “AUSA is pro-choice” policy, which required the union to give “no funding, facilitation, or platform” to any group deemed pro-life, and forbade the “unreasonable display” of pro-life material anywhere on campus — despite the inclusion of such views in teaching materials for the course, and within relevant books contained in the university library.

The application was subsequently rejected, and the group was told to reapply the following term — only to be rejected again. ALES said that its efforts to discover the reasons for the decision were met with repeated obstruction and delay.

Aberdeen University’s policy on religion and belief, regarding ethics and diversity, states: “The University is also committed to providing a learning, working, and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its members are respected, and which is free from discrimination, prejudice, and intimidation, and all forms of harassment and bullying.”

A year after the original application, the Aberdeen Sheriff Court issued a writ filed by ALES against AUSA, stating that it had discriminated against the pro-life student group on the sole ground that it espoused the legally protected belief that unborn human life should enjoy legal protection.

Shortly after the court filing, AUSA suspended its pro-choice policy, prompting ALES to reapply for affiliation. That application was accepted, and affiliation was offered to ALES on 14 May. This now could have ramifications for the student unions at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities, where such a policy is currently in place.

Alex Mason, a Ph.D. student and a member of the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society, said: “From the beginning, all we wanted was a chance to exercise our right to speak freely on campus in defence of life.”

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