By Phoebe Melmoth
A petition with over 9,000 signatures is calling for a university’s students union to stop funding a pro-life society.
The petition accuses Exeter University’s student guild of “funding hate speech” and has led to the pro-life society’s funding being paused while a decision is made.
A student guild, also known as student union, provides a range of support and social services and societies can apply for funding through grants.
The petition, started by Exeter University students George Adamson, Lauren Gollop and Isobel Maddocks, says that: “University must be a safe space for healthy debate.
“A place where intellectual curiosity is able to flourish and people are in turn able to learn and develop their opinions.
“However, by allowing the existence of a society based around an opinion, that belief is shielded from the necessary scrutiny that would normally occur.
“It is especially alarming when this society has adopted such a controversial and harmful point of view, a view which is a direct attack on women’s rights.”
The statement argues that the society should not be funded by the student guild because a society based around opinion does not allow for healthy debate on these “harmful views.”
“This dangerous ideology is one that must be exposed to the opposition, not sponsored by our student union, and we believe that those who so strongly believe it should express it in other societies – such as the Debating Society or the Christian Society.
“The student guild, through bankrolling this society, is enabling individuals such as these to have a stronger platform in which to express their backward and sinister views.”
The student guild has responded to the situation in a statement defending the pro-life society.
“As your students’ guild, we support freedom of speech. We want to foster an environment where our members can participate fully, feel able to question and challenge, express new ideas, discuss controversial and or unpopular opinions within the law – without fear of intolerance or discrimination.”
The committee of the Exeter University Students for Life society includes three men, Ali Ghazi-Torbati, Robert Tawse, and Michael Magier. They expressed their opinions on their Instagram account.
Ghazi – Torbati wrote: “Those who have had abortions have sinned and need to repent.”
Whilst Tawse said: “I do not believe any women really want to have an abortion. I believe it is a choice made in fear, which is no real choice at all.”
Members of the society have been subject to online criticism and have now turned off commenting on all social media.
In a statement made to Christian Concern, president of the society, Ghazi- Torbati said: “As a society we speak up for and take a stand for the rights of pre-born children, 200,000 of which lose their lives to abortion every year in this country.
“We aim to equip pro-life students to advocate for the pro-life position and to provide a space to discuss the issue respectfully and sensitively.”
Ghazi-Torbati said the banning of his society would be against his free speech, saying he feels anti-abortion groups are a target for “censorship”.
“The UK has traditionally been a bastion of free speech, but in recent years that has been eroded and the trend has been reflected in over 100 of our universities.
“Pro-life groups in particular have been targeted and faced attempted censorship for valid beliefs held by many across the world.”
The society has reportedly been subject to harassment and death threats.
“Our student group should enjoy the same rights as every other student group, free of discrimination or harassment. The death threats made against members of our society are completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing.”
The group has contacted the university in hopes they will “take immediate action.”