Pro-life group describes 'distressing' abuse at Oxford University Freshers' Fair

Anna Fleischer and another volunteer at their stall at the Oxford University Freshers' Fair.(Photo: Twitter/OSFL)

A pro-life student group has described a "pile on" of abuse and "intimidation" while running a stall at the Oxford University Freshers' Fair.

Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) said pro-abortion activists pulled down posters and turned up to their stall with a wheelie bin where they tried to dispose of their promotional materials. 

OSFL shared on Twitter: "We were sorry that a small minority of students thought such intimidation tactics were ok, or would be effective.

"The vast majority of our interactions on the stall were interesting and respectful, and we had conversations with a diverse group of students with differing views."

Commenting on the incident, OSFL President Anna Fleischer told The Christian Institute that the Oxford University Students' Union (SU) had asked if it could put a "content warning" next to their stall, to which they agreed, while neighbouring stalls were asked if they were happy to be next to a pro-life group, with some apparently choosing to move.

OSFL were able to recover most of their material and continue running their stall only after the intervention of security and a threat from the university to cancel the Freshers' Fair if the group were prevented from exhibiting.

Fleischer told The Christian Institute: "It was really distressing, in particular for one of the people on the stall, who said she felt really scared and threatened and that it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience."

The SU has said it is "unequivocally pro-choice and supports all people's right to make their own decisions regarding their bodies."

In a statement issued in response to the incident it added that it was bound by university free speech policies and had no control over registered student groups.

"We believe that no one should have to see their fundamental rights being up for debate, and for that, we apologise," it said.

"We understand, and to some extent anticipated, the emotive responses and frustrations towards the presence of an anti-abortion stall at the Freshers' Fair. The stalls represent only their own views and not necessarily those of the SU."

Oxford University has defended the presence of OSFL at the Freshers' Fair, with a spokesperson saying, "The university supports the right of all our students and student groups to express views of all persuasions within the law.

"We therefore condemn last week's protest against the Oxford Students for Life stall at the Freshers' Fair, which was an attempt to deny the right of expression to others.

"We have a robust freedom of speech policy which states 'Within the bounds set by law, all voices or views which any member of our community considers relevant should be given the chance of a hearing'.

"We require all events held on university premises to abide by this policy."

Fleischer said it was "such a comfort" that the university had stood by them. 

"Officially, the university has been amazing, it's just the student body that seems to increasingly think that disagreeing fundamentally with the way people decide to live and the things they decide to do is a kind of violence to them and therefore they have the right to silence us. But they don't, and we're not going to back down," she said. 

A campaign of harassment against OSFL has also been waged online, with the group announcing on Instagram that it was reluctantly disabling comments because of a slew of abusive messages.

Fleischer said her advice for people receiving abuse for their pro-life beliefs was to "stay calm and kind".

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