A few days ago, the anti-abortion group Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) advertised this debate on its Facebook page.
The (now deleted) page's description said:
Last year in Britain, over 185,000 abortions were carried out. What does this say about our national culture? Is it a sign of equality, or does it suggest we treat human life carelessly? Joining OSFL to debate the issue are two prominent journalists.
Tim Stanley is a historian of the United States, and writes for the Telegraph. He has said: 'We desperately need to have an honest conversation about abortion in the West. Free from hysteria, yes, but cognizant of what it really involves. Otherwise, we tolerate the demise of human dignity.'
Brendan O'Neill is the editor of Spiked and a columnist for the Big Issue. 'The right to choose', he has written, 'frees a woman from official prying into the decisions she makes about her body and her life; it increases her humanity, it makes her a fuller, more independent human being.'
There was an outcry on other parts of the site. Here's a page entitled "What The Fuck Is Abortion Culture?" posted by a (now deleted) account called "Oxrev Fems".
The description said:
CN for the event: really shitty anti-choice rhetoric and probs some cissexism
This Tuesday Oxford Students for Life are putting on a super cute debate with two cis guys on whether people with uteruses deserve to have any choice over their own bodies.
We don't think this is okay so (assuming the event is still going ahead) we thought we should go and say hi!
Bring your friends, and if you want 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 will also have a fundraising bucket for Abortion Support- a charity that helps women in Ireland and Northern Ireland come to the UK for abortions.
It's great that we can have a positive outcome from this shitty initiative.
We are still hoping this gets shut down by the college (Christ Church). Let's use the event page for ideas on how best to organise against this debate.
While Oxford University's Student Union Women's Campaign released a statement:
The Women's Campaign (WomCam) condemn OSFL 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. By only giving a platform to these men, OSFL are participating in a culture where reproductive rights are limited and policed by people who will never experience needing an abortion. (Continues)..
This was OSFL's response to the calls for the debate to be abandoned:
On Monday a debate took place in Christ Church college's Junior Common Room (JCR).
After three hours, a motion was passed: the JCR voted to "inform College Censors about the mental and physical security issues surrounding the debate."
Tim Stanley (among others, on student Facebook groups and elsewhere) argued that this was tantamount to censorship.
While Brendan O'Neill had this to say...
However, some on Facebook argued that those complaining about the debate had no issue with it taking place - they simply didn't want it happening in their college.
Anyway, as a result of the meeting between the JCR and College Censors, Christ Church decided on Monday evening that it couldn't host the debate.
According to an email sent to students by JCR president Louise Revell and reproduced in student paper The Cherwell:
Lottie (Richie, JCR Vice President), Gabriel (Henry, JCR Secretary) and I met with the censors earlier today and were informed that permission has not been given to OSFL to host their event in the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre tomorrow.
The reason is that there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting arising from potential security and welfare issues, such as those discussed at last night's General Meeting.
At midnight yesterday, Oxford Students for Life sent BuzzFeed News an email which said:
The debate will be going ahead, but not at Christ Church tomorrow because of security issues due to the planned protest. We are currently looking for an alternative venue. If we haven't found one by four o'clock tomorrow, we will arrange a new date.
We are heartened by the support throughout the University for our right to free expression. Sadly, there are some extreme voices who don't believe that Oxford should welcome open debate. We will continue to campaign and to encourage an amicable conversation on life issues. We'd like to reiterate our offer to WomCam to co-host a debate next term.
And pretty soon it had a page up looking for an alternative venue.
Tim Stanley seemed confident it was going ahead.
...but it didn't.
There's no word yet from OSFL on whether the debate will be rescheduled.
OSFL has released a statement on its Facebook page.
We are sorry to announce that, after a day of hard work, we haven't found a venue for the debate. We only expected to have the same rights of expression as any other Oxford student society, and we're disappointed that scare tactics proved successful.
We're grateful to Tim and Brendan for their patience. We're also grateful for the many messages of support from those on both sides of the issue. Several pro-choicers have said that we should have been able to hold this debate, including Ann Furedi, who personally expressed her solidarity with OSFL.
Our society exists to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, including the unborn, elderly, and disabled. We think it is essential that Oxford University allows an open debate on these issues. We're confident that most Oxford students would prefer free speech to censorship, and we look forward to continuing this hugely important conversation.