SRC forced to affiliate anti-choice group after threat of lawsuit

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  • Laurie Clarke
    Editor

The SRC have no option but to affiliate the anti-choice society Glasgow Students for Life following threats of legal action. The anti-abortion society threatened to sue the SRC for discrimination after they were denied affiliation in December 2018. The SRC have since sought legal advice to defend their decision, but have been advised that as anti-choice beliefs are considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, there is no legal basis to fight the lawsuit.

SRC affiliation entitles societies to apply for SRC funding and use SRC promotional materials, but it is not required to allow societies to meet and speak on campus, and the decision not to affiliate GSL did not constitute a ban. The SRC voted against affiliation in an overwhelming majority, 29 council members voting against affiliation and three members abstaining.

The society first formed in November 2017 under the name Glasgow University Protection of Unborn People (GUPUPS), and following controversy on campus rebranded as Glasgow Students for Life.

GSL are currently participating in the “peaceful vigil” 40 Days for Life outside Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Govan. 40 Days for Life is an international Christian campaign which “seeks God’s help” for “abortion-vulnerable women” and “innocent children who are at risk of perishing”, with the ultimate aim of ending abortion. GSL are also involved with March for Life, a group which promotes “life from conception – no exception”.

In December 2018, SRC President Lauren McDougall informed GSL: “As stated last year, although we fully support freedom of expression, we feel that your society crosses a line whereby that expression calls for limited rights for others to choose what happens with their own bodies. We continue to believe therefore that the aims of your society do not align with the ethos of the SRC and its values.

“You have the right of course to exist as a club in the University and to meet as a student society.”

On the decision to affiliate, McDougall told The Glasgow Guardian: “The SRC support the right for everyone to exercise bodily autonomy and make decisions about their own lives free from judgement. We consider safe and legal access to abortion as a human right; something which is echoed by the United Nations, World Health Organisation and Amnesty International. The SRC strive to do everything we can not only to represent our students, but to support them and promote equality, their rights, and their health & wellbeing. The SRC executive believe that we must prioritise the safety and wellbeing of the majority of our students over the views of a vocal minority which is why Council chose not to affiliate Glasgow Students for Life in December. We respect everyone’s right to hold their own beliefs, nonetheless, as I’ve said before, a line is crossed when those beliefs impact on the rights of others. However as anti-choice beliefs have been established under EU case law as a protected characteristic, we have been left with no choice but to affiliate GSL. I’d like to thank all of the students and societies who contacted us in support of our decision in December and we would like to reassure all of our students that the SRC remains committed to ensuring that UofG students are safe, healthy and fully informed and we do not endorse anti-choice views.”

Strathclyde University similarly came under fire in November 2018 for banning the anti-choice group Strathclyde Students for Life (SSfL). SSfL, which shares legal advisor Jamie McGowan with GSL, fought the decision on the basis of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Strathclyde were forced to repeal the ban, but followed the example of GU SRC with the decision not to affiliate the anti-choice group.

Anti-choice rhetoric was first legally protected as a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act in 2011, when two Catholic nurses won the right not to work in an abortion clinic in London. This court case has set a legal precedent which has entitled anti-choice beliefs to the same rights as other protected characteristics, such as sexual orientation, race and disability.