What happened to the pro-life movement on campus?

It was good to read Madeleine Teahan’s interview with Eve Farren in the Herald last week. Eve Farren, for those who have not read the article, is to become the full-time leader of a new pro-life inter-university student organisation: The Alliance of Pro-Life Students. A graduate of Bristol University, she recalled her experience of the lonely struggle to present a pro-life message to other students there. Madeleine herself recalled similar obstacles when she was an undergraduate: a stall at the Freshers’ Fair “was usually the height of the academic year’s pro-life activism”. She felt that “The inertia that blights pro-life campaigning at universities is partly due to fear and lethargy but also a lack of advice and support”, adding that “I still regret not doing more for the pro-life society at Cambridge.”

I also have regrets. For my first two years at Cambridge in the mid-60s there was no pro-life society as such. Then, in 1967 came the Abortion Act. I cannot recall raising my voice once in defence of life, either before the Act was passed, or afterwards. Apart from a hectic social life my head was full of Third World and other issues – the sort of activities that makes you feel good without removing you one inch from your comfort zone: I dutifully turned up for plentiful amounts of soup and rolls at War on Want lunches; I pinned that poster of Che Guevara on my wall in token of my support for his cause (whatever it was); I made a speech at the Union (very late at night when it was almost empty) on the safe subject of apartheid in South Africa; I handed out Ban the Bomb leaflets; I joined in a huge anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Grosvenor Square; I listened sympathetically when friends in college went on about over-population. But I did nothing in response to the single and gravest piece of legislation during those years: raising my voice about the abortion of pre-born babies that was starting to take place on my own doorstep.

In retrospect this strikes me as a shameful omission. Many years later I tried to make some small amends: hearing that pro-life students were under attack from militant pro-choice fellow students who wanted to silence their voice completely, I went on a 25-mile sponsored walk to raise money for their cause. Now that the Alliance of Pro-Life Students has come into being, I should be glad to give them further tangible support.

Since the 1960s, when I was an undergraduate, entrenched battle-lines have been drawn up between those wanting to repeal the Abortion Act and those who don’t. It remains a constant and passionate dispute on both sides. A thoughtful blog by Daniel Nichols on his Caelum et Terra site reminded me to look at the argument from a different angle. He referred to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic In Akron, USA which had its usual numbers of pro-life protesters. Recently, one of these protestors was accidentally injured outside the clinic. The clinic’s nurses immediately came outside to her aid, phoned the emergency services, contacted her husband and even sent her flowers in hospital. Nichols reflects, “It made me realize that I was wrong to assume that someone associated with such evil as abortion must be devoid of all goodness…for all I know, they may consider abortion a tragedy, an unfortunate necessity. We should refrain from the demonization of our enemies. They may not be evil, just mistaken.”

The pro-life movement in this country urgently needs a new perspective and new strategies. I have hopes that the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, under the energetic leadership of Eve Farron, will find a new and compassionate way to convey their message of hope to the students they meet on campuses up and down the country.