By Charlotte King
On Monday 27 January, as the majority of students returned to Cardiff University for the start of Spring semester, pro-life protest group Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK (CBR UK) returned to Cathays Park Campus. They continued their ongoing protest against both Cardiff University and Cardiff University Students’ Union following the Union adopting a pro-choice stance in 2019’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
Following last year’s AGM in November, CBR UK carried out pro-life protests outside of Cardiff University’s Main Building on multiple occasions. Speaking to Gair Rhydd on January 27, the group expressed that they have returned to campus on the first day of the new term because they are running an “ongoing campaign”. They want to “[make] a statement”, spread the message to students that they “have not gone away”, and continue trying to encourage the University and Students’ Union to alter their pro-chance stance. A CBR UK member clarified that they are not necessarily demanding the Union adopts a pro-life stance but rather returns to a “neutral” position.
The group also told Gair Rhydd that they have invited both the University and the Students Union to debate with them and will maintain “pressure” through regular protests until this debate occurs. The group has expressed particular anger towards the Students Union last term for allegedly stifling their freedom of speech when UCU Strike action protestors blocked CBR UK’s display during the eight days of strike action last year.
Jackie Yip, Students’ Union President, said in response: “I have not received any communication from CBR UK regarding a proposed debate and I’m not accountable to them to make this happen.
“The Students’ Union has made clear in previous statements that everyone should respect others’ right to freedom of speech – there has been no direction on the contrary given to lecturers or other students.
“I disagree with the deliberately harmful tactics being used by CBR UK…I’m actively trying to stop this from continuing.”
Yip also added that any students in need of support following CBR UK’s displays should contact student advice, and encouraged those who see future “distressing activity” to report it to 101.
Speaking to Gair Rhydd, a Cardiff University spokesperson also said: “At the time of writing, the University has not received a formal request from CBR UK.”
CBR UK’s return on campus was met with negative responses from some students once again. Onlookers told Gair Rhydd that they felt CBR UK’s action was futile because they did not see how it would change the minds of passers-by. Many also expressed that they felt the group’s action was “insensitive” and could be triggering to those who have had abortions or lost children.
When asked about the graphic nature of their display, a CBR UK member stated, “We put a warning [sign] but it is the truth.” Gair Rhydd then enquired how onlookers can be sure that CBR UK’s posters are scientifically accurate, to which the group said that their images are sourced on their official website.
Isadora Sinha, President of the newly-formed Pro-Choice Society, reacted to CBR UK’s ongoing protest. Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Sinha said: “I personally feel unsettled as what they stand for is a direct attack on my and my peers’ basic human rights”, but people must remember that the majority of the UK is pro-choice and society is “taking steps forward” to ensure equality every day.
Sinha continued saying that CBR UK are attempting to make out that those supporting a pro-choice stance are “devils.” She believes pro-choice supporters are critical, egalitarian thinkers standing up for student democracy and that CBR UK are simply angering students and encouraging them to become even more pro-choice rather than persuading them to become pro-life. She feels that the majority of Cardiff University students will focus on their degrees rather than CBR UK’s pro-life protests.
The Pro-Choice Society was established at the beginning of 2020, with the President telling Gair Rhydd that it was born out of demand from peers and many students following the backlash against CBR UK’s presence on campus. In response to the society’s formation, CBR UK said that they welcome the society as they support freedom of expression, but are “concerned” that these people “stifle, censor and cover” the freedom of expression of ‘pro-lifers’, referring to the pro-choice counter-protest to CBR UK’s presence last term.
One student even took to Overheard at Cardiff University on Facebook to share a letter they sent to the Students’ Union and the University demanding they take action against CBR UK, stating that the group’s presence is causing students to feel unsafe on campus.
A Cardiff University spokesperson told Gair Rhydd: “Whilst the University actively encourages freedom of speech and robust academic debate it does not take a public position on such matters…We respect the right to peaceful and lawful protest. However, when protestors encroach onto University property, without permission, we reserve the right to ask them to move.” They added, “If there is evidence of protestors breaking the law the University would of course refer the matter to the police for investigation. The University will continue to monitor the situation.”
Jackie Yip has since announced that the Students’ Union is speaking to the local Council, the University and the police to “build a case that these actions are causing undue distress and trauma” to students.