Journalist Tim Stanley was the pro-life debater, and he writes about his ordeal in the UK Telegraph.
An attempt to hold a reasonable debate about abortion in Oxford was called off after students threatened to disrupt it. Tim Stanley, one of the debaters, writes that the authoritarian Left has become everything it claims to hate.
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…
A few months ago I accepted an invitation by the Oxford Students for Life to debate Brendan O’Neill on the subject “This House believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”. The setting was Christ Church College and around 60 people signed up to attend on Facebook. To be clear: this wasn’t a pro-life demo and the subject wasn’t whether or not women should have the right to choose abortion. Even though I was speaking for the proposition, my speech would’ve begun with noting that the motion has nothing to do with abortion rights per se and was simply a consideration of how having effective abortion on demand affects wider society. Brendan, speaking for the opposition, would’ve doubtless done a fine job and probably run rings round me. It was a fair and free debate that I half expected to lose.
But someone was outraged that we dared to discuss this issue at all. A protest group of around 300 people called “What the f**k is ‘Abortion Culture’?” appeared on Facebook that promised to “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 were guilty of promoting “really sh*tty anti-choice rhetoric and probs some cissexism.” The foul language indicates how sophisticated the protesters were, while the accusation of cissexism had me reaching for my online urban dictionary. Was I being called a sissy by homophobic feminists? Mais non. Apparently a “cis” is someone who identifies with the same gender that they were born with. So that’s a thing now.
The university’s students’ union also issued a statement that took aim at Brendan and me for being so offensively attached to our God-given genitals: “The Women’s Campaign (WomCam) condemn SFL for holding this debate. It is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should be doing with their bodies.” Next, the Christ Church Junior Common Room (posh talk for “the committee that run the students’ bar”) passed a motion asking their college to decline to room the debate. Eventually, the college caved-in on the grounds that, “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”. The pro-life society tried to find an alternative venue but everyone else said “no”. I believe that two colleges agreed only to later rescind their invitations. I was sitting in Paddington Station (in a duffel coat and hat!) ready to jump on a train to Oxford at 4.40pm when I was told that the debate was finally, totally called off.
So what do we learn from this?
We learn that feminists on the left are opposed to free speech. Once they decide something, they don’t want to have to consider alternatives or hear evidence contrary to what they feel is right for them. It doesn’t matter what is morally right or respectful of the rights of others – the selfish desire for happiness is absolute, and to help with personal responsibility. And if free speech has to go in order to prevent anyone from harassing them with pesky facts, then so much the worse for free speech.
One thing is for sure, the pro-abortion position is not adopted because of logic or evidence. Being pro-abortion is non-cognitive. It cannot be defended rationally, but survives only by mob threats and raw power. If this were not so, then the feminists would have let the debate go through and their side would have won it on the merits. But they knew they would lose a fair debate, and that’s why they shut the debate down. And yet I’m sure that they would call themselves pro-diversity and open-minded.