‘Terrified’ pro-life student group needs police protection from baying mob at Manchester University

Catholic Herald [London, England]

March 2, 2024

By James Jeffrey

A student pro-life group who met at the University of Manchester required police intervention due to a hostile crowd of up to 250 people that surrounded the building where the meeting took place.

The student pro-life group, Manchester Pro-Life Society, met for a talk on the evening of 1 March. The harassment began as soon as students tried to access the building hosting the event. Eggs were thrown at windows, while students who arrived to attend the event were subject to “a torrent of verbal abuse and threats”, reports Right to Life UK.

The intimidation escalated to a point where the police arrived in order to enable the pro-life students to enter the building. As students left the event, they had to proceed through a tunnel of protesters held back by police as the air reverberated with chanting: “Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” The pro-life students were spat at and threatened with physical abuse, including one female first-year student being told to “get raped”. Some members of the crowd then pursued the students while shouting and swearing at them.

“If it wasn’t for the police and security, people would have definitely been physically hurt,” says Jacob, treasurer of Manchester Pro-Life Society. “It made me feel intimidated and threatened. I was genuinely afraid that we would get hurt physically.”

A heavily pregnant 22-year-old woman had to be escorted home in a police van due to concerns for her safety.

“I really thought our lives were in danger,” says Maisie, the expectant mother and an alumna of the university. She describes the scene as follows:

“Leaving the building was the most terrifying part, we were surrounded and people were screaming in our faces. I knew that it would only take one person to push into me for me to fall and be crushed. It was traumatic, I was shaking the whole time and I’m still really shaken up. I really thought our lives were in danger. The crowd was extremely violent – spitting, throwing eggs, screaming and swearing. There were around 30 of us, and 300 of them. Most of them had their faces covered.”

Rafa, a student at the university, describes how the police emphasised to the students at the meeting how serious the situation had become:

“When we were leaving, the police told everyone we had to do this very quickly, [with a] very swift exit from the building,” Rafa says.”The police were using force to stop these people because they were being very violent. They were being very threatening, both physically and verbally.”

Previously at the university, some female students had said they “feared for their safety” as a result of the establishment of the pro-life group, highlighting how it was founded by a group of young men, reports the Independent.

“It’s blatant misogyny, control and subjugation of women hid behind a smoke screen disguised as a political opinion or stance point,” said one second-year linguistics student.

“My heart dropped [when I saw the society] – it felt like I was at the beginning of a new Margaret Atwood novel. The society has made me feel weak and inferior to my male counterparts. I’ve had endless messages from girls who fear for their safety.”

She added: “Don’t get me wrong I am all for having different political views, but I think women’s bodily autonomy is not up for debate.”

Another female student said she believes the society would lead “to the eventual harassment of women” obtaining abortions at the university.

“I understand that the [Student Union] has to treat all societies equally but in terms of the message it’s sending out to women, I think it’s continuing to perpetuate the stigmatisation of abortion and denying that it’s a part of healthcare and a legal right.”

The group protesting the pro-life event, Stop Manchester Prolife, has released a list of demands including mandating that pro-life medical students “not be placed in abortion clinics, maternity wards and sexual health clinics due to conflict of interest”, reports Right to Life UK.

The charitable organisation focused on life issues, such as abortion, assisted suicide and embryo research, adds that since 2017, student representative bodies at Aberdeen UniversityGlasgow UniversityNottingham University and Strathclyde University have all tried to prevent student pro-life groups from being affiliated with their respective university and benefiting from the same privileges available to any other student group.

In each of these cases, the Student Union had to reverse its decision after the pro-life group involved threatened legal proceedings against the union. Students at Birmingham University also had significant difficulty becoming affiliated with the university but eventually won out against significant opposition.

In 2019, in the first case of its kind, a midwifery student at Nottingham University was suspended and faced possible expulsion from her course after a lecturer raised concerns about her role in the university’s pro-life group. Only after beginning legal action was the university’s decision overturned. Towards the end of 2020, this case was formally closed after the university extended an apology to the student and offered compensation for her “unjust suspension”, reports Right to Life UK.

It notes that almost a quarter of pro-life students have been “threatened, abused, alarmed or distressed” for being pro-life at university, according to a 2021 poll by the national student pro-life group, the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS). The poll noted that over 71 per cent of pro-life students report that they have faced situations in lectures or seminars where they felt they could not speak about their views.

Among those surveyed, more than 23 per cent said they had been “threatened, abused, alarmed or distressed – by actions or words – by another student or academic” because of their membership of a pro-life society. A further 35 per cent of the participants reported that they had seen events cancelled due to the “de-platforming” of pro-life speakers, while 65 per cent of pro-life students had “witnessed another student being discriminated against or harassed for holding pro-life views”.

A 2020 survey undertaken by Survation for legal advocacy group, ADF International, has found that 27 per cent of university students have “hidden” their opinions that they believe may be at odds with those of their university.

“University, of all places, should be where everyone can learn, debate, challenge and discuss ideas that are important to us,” says Lorcán Price, legal counsel for ADF UK, a faith-based legal advocacy group.

“The Higher Education (freedom of speech) Act 2022 was meant to secure this by ensuring universities took concrete steps to protect the rights of all students, including those with minority views who have been subjected to censorship. Yet, at Manchester University last night, we saw students’ safety under threat as they spat at, threatened with rape, and barricaded into a venue by a fanatical mob.”

The Survation survey found that 44 per cent of students believe that their lecturers would treat them differently if they made their views known, and that 38 per cent believe that their future careers might be adversely affected if they openly expressed their true opinions.

The survey, which received responses from 1,028 current university students and recent graduates across the country, showed that 40 per cent of students have witnessed an increase in the cancellation of events due to the views held by the speaker at their university.

“The pro-abortion mob were their usual angry, screechy selves, utterly devoid of arguments,” the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which campaigns in the UK to protect life from conception until natural death, stated on X, formerly known as Twitter, in response to the ugly scenes at Manchester University. “So incapable are they of using their words, that they resorted to violence, in the form of egging the room where the talk was being held, shouting at attendees as they left, and even following some of them home, necessitating a police escort.”

Noting how the pro-life students “by contrast, were stoic, resilient, undeterred”, SPUC concluded: “Let the example of these students encourage us all – irrespective of age – to question what more we could be doing to be a voice for the voiceless at a time when they badly need our voices to be heard.”

Manchester Pro-Life Society has emphasised that it is not an anti-abortion society rather a pro-life society, which thereby goes beyond abortion: the group highlights that it is concerned with other threats to life including assisted suicide, the death penalty, poverty and poor living standards, structural issues in critical infrastructure such as the NHS, and climate change.

In footage of the unrest, one of the pro-choice students tries to calmly tell a group of protestors lined up against him that everyone has a right and freedom to express their own views.

“No! Abortion is a right! Abortion is not an opinion!” a young man shouts back.

“The Students Union has a duty of care to students to ensure their rights to free speech are protected,” Price says. “Debate is always welcome. Attempting to silence someone’s beliefs through threats of violence is unacceptable behaviour in British society.”