07 March 2023, The Tablet

Stirling Catholic student society suspended over abortion post

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said that Catholics should be free to express their views on the issue.

Stirling Catholic student society suspended over abortion post

The University of Stirling Campus
University of Stirling, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The University of Stirling’s Student Union has suspended the university Catholic Society after a post indicating support for a pro-life protest was shared by the group on social media. 

After Stirling University’s Catholic Society shared an image supporting the “40 Days for Life” campaign, an international initiative promoting 40 days of prayer and fasting outside abortion clinics, with participants holding vigil in shifts, the society received substantial criticism on social media.

Following the backlash, an elected officer of the student union, vice president for communities Jess Reid, issued a statement on social media announcing the suspension of the society, saying that she was “extremely angry and disappointed to have taken this action”. 

Reid stated that an investigation had been opened into the Catholic Society for a suspected breach of the section of her Student Union’s “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy” banning “any form of discrimination…harassment and bullying based on the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and pregnancy and maternity”.

Reid did not state which protected characteristic the suspension pertained to.

In addition, Reid suggested the suspension was informed by a motion the student union passed last year committing to “actively oppose all anti-choice protests and activities across Scotland”.

Stirling Student Union has yet to respond to requests for clarification regarding the basis of the suspension or the protected characteristic the Catholic Society was thought to have discriminated against. 

Supporters of 40 Days for Life say the campaign is an example of peaceful protest, with participants signing a “statement of peace” committing to “show compassion” and to avoid shouting at, verbally abusing or physically contacting anyone visiting abortion facilities.

Critics of the movement describe the continuous vigils as organised, intentional “harassment” and a serious infringement of privacy, especially in the case of people seeking abortions.

Responding to the student union’s decision, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said: “The belief in the sanctity of human life is a cornerstone of Catholic teaching and faith.

“As such Catholics at Stirling University should be free to express their views and engage in respectful discussion on this issue with fellow students without being censored.”

A spokesperson for the student union told The Tablet that “the action taken is in no way discriminating against anyone’s faith” but “seeking to address the actions proposed by an affiliated group towards those with protected characteristics”.

The union had “recently welcomed the Catholic society as an affiliated club and look[s] forward to working with them” in future, the spokesperson added. 

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