A planned abortion debate at Oxford University organized by a pro-life group was shut down this week following intimidation by members of the Student Union's Women's Campaign group. A barrister has accused the college of caving into "criminal intimidation" and not respecting free speech rights.
"We only expected to have the same rights of expression as any other Oxford student society, and we're disappointed that scare tactics proved successful," the Oxford Students for Life group said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Our society exists to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, including the unborn, elderly, and disabled. We think it is essential that Oxford University allows an open debate on these issues. We're confident that most Oxford students would prefer free speech to censorship, and we look forward to continuing this hugely important conversation."
Catholic Herald reported on Wednesday that Oxford authorities decided that the pro-life group could not hold a debate on the motion "This House Believes Britain's Abortion Culture Hurts Us All" at the college over security concerns.
Members from the Women's Campaign group had reportedly sent a message on Facebook inviting other members to go to the planned debate and "take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their 'debate.'"
"We will also have a fundraising bucket for Abortion Support, a charity that helps women in Ireland and Northern Ireland come to the U.K. for abortions. It's great that we can have a positive outcome from this [expletive] initiative," the message reportedly added, though has now been deleted.
Neil Addison, national director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, said that the college took "an unlawful decision under the Education No 2 Act 1986, which guarantees freedom of speech in universities."
He added: "It is also simply giving into criminal intimidation. If there were concerns, then the police should have been informed to prevent intimidation of the debate."
One of the debaters, a journalist who was scheduled to participate at the event, claimed in an article for The Telegraph that the "authoritarian Left" has become everything that it opposes.
"I would've thought that the one place in Britain where you could agree to disagree amicably would be Oxford University. But I was wrong. For instance, I've discovered that you're only allowed to debate abortion there if a) you're a woman and b) you're all for it. Any other approach to the subject is liable to attract a mob," Tim Stanley wrote.
"What it also proved is that elements of the Left are working hard to define new parameters for freedom of speech. You are free to speak so long as it doesn't offend certain sensibilities, which of course amounts to no real freedom at all," he continued.
"Many on the Left imitate the very authoritarian mindset of the people on the religious Right that they claim to hate, likewise trying to safeguard their definition of freedom by eradicating contrary ideas. On the subject of abortion, the Left can enjoy that authoritarianism because contemporary society broadly agrees with them. But a day will come when they try to argue for something that proves unpopular and they, too, will be gagged. And I'll be there to defend their right to say something that I disagree with."