Pro-life group sues Aberdeen University claiming discrimination

(Photo: Facebook/The Aberdeen Life Ethics Society)

A student pro-life group is taking legal action against Aberdeen University after its bid to become a recognised society on campus was repeatedly turned down.

The Aberdeen Life Ethics Society said it was told by the Students' Association (AUSA) that its application for formal affiliation was rejected because its values contravened the body's "pro-choice" policy.

The policy, adopted by the AUSA in November 2017, says that the union is committed to advocating for access to abortions in Northern Ireland and decriminalisation across the UK, and will give "no funding, facilitation, or platform" to groups that do not support this position.

Without affiliation, student groups have limited access to campus facilities and funding, and cannot advertise at the freshers' fair, one of the most important times of the year for attracting new members. 

The Christian Legal Centre, which is advising the ALES in its legal challenge, said the policy was "disturbing" and reflected an "anti-free speech" trend across the UK.

It argued that the AUSA's position stood in contradiction to Aberdeen University's policy on equality and diversity in which it recognises religion and belief as a protected characteristic. 

Alex Mason, a PHD student and member of the Aberdeen Life and Ethics society, said: "Universities should foster free debate and discussion over important ethical issues like abortion.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of social pressure on young people to conform to the pro-abortion viewpoint. For many of us, our pro-life beliefs were forged from our understanding of gestational science, as well as our Christian faith.

"The ability to express these beliefs must be protected."

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "Is this what we want in our universities that should be environments of open learning, thinking and debate?

"Through this policy a small number of students at Aberdeen University are representing the interests and diverse beliefs of nearly 14,500 students and have re-cast the Students' Association as a pro-abortion campaigning organisation.

"The case at this university alone is appalling, but it is part of a disturbing and snowballing trend across the UK where student unions are pushing, not just the abortion debate, but a number of issues, in one direction.

"How are students supposed to hear the case for the human right of the pre-born person if debate is shut down? University authorities have to step in and do more to protect free speech and freedom of religion on our university campuses.

"We will stand with ALES as they continue to fight for justice in this case."

Last month, Glasgow Students for Life won their bid to affiliate with Glasgow University following the threat of legal action when their application was similarly rejected.

The group was refused affiliation by the Students' Representative Council (SRC) last November because its views were "contrary" to the council's ethos.

The SRC backed down after GSL threatened to take legal action on the grounds that it breached equality laws by discriminating against the group's pro-life beliefs.

The AUSA has been contacted for comment on ALES's legal challenge.