Pro-Life society organisers concerned over ‘death threats’ as petition passes 10,000 signatures

Organisers of a Manchester students Pro-Life society claim they are concerned over ‘death threats’ as a petition to pull the club has gained thousands of signatures.

The controversial Manchester Pro-Life Society was started by a committee currently composed of three male students, but has received huge backlash with more than 10,000 people signing a petition to close it down.

On the society’s Instagram page, it was announced that history of art student George Vincent would serve as President of the society and medicine student Jacob Karinatan would serve as treasurer. A third committee member was listed on the society’s Instagram page, but his profile has since been removed reportedly due to concerns over doxing and death threats.

The society claims its aim is to “create a Pro-Life culture on campus” and to engage students on pro-life issues. It has faced criticism not just for its pro-life views but also for its lack of gender diversity.

Mr Vincent said: “We recognise that our committee lacks gender diversity, this was not intentional but simply a result of the society’s rapid creation before we had a support base of members. Our membership now has a great diversity, and women play a crucial role in supporting our society.”

“We do however believe that these issues are relevant and important to people of either gender, they affect everyone. The right to life is not a gender-specific issue.”

Mr Vincent is also the Prayer and Liturgy Officer of CathSoc the combined University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University catholic society. Karinatan is also on the CathSoc committee as a secretary. The Catholic Society follows the new Pro-Life society on Instagram.

He felt it was important to point out that the society is “not an anti-abortion society but a pro-life society”. This means that they oppose not only abortion but are also concerned with other threats to life such as assisted suicide and the death penalty.

The formation of the society has been under heavy criticism both on and off campus with more than 10,000 people signing a petition started by an anonymous “concerned student” at the university.

Ianthe Warlow, a linguistics graduate from The University of Manchester was one of those on social media expressing concerns about the launch of the society and has written to the Student Union over the perceived ‘dangers’ of the group.

Mrs Warlow said: “The all-male committee are promoting a dangerous resistance to basic reproductive rights. If they cared about ‘life’, the focus would be on creating a better-informed and safer world for women. Abortion is essential healthcare and safe access to it should absolutely be protected.”

The petition has gone viral on social media being widely shared amongst current and former students.

It states: “The existence of this society adds to an already prevalent stigma surrounding abortion, a legal right in our country. Women at our university should not have to face additional pressure or judgement on such personal matters.”

“The Student Union should be a place that supports all students’ rights and wellbeing rather than endorsing societies that aim to abolish these rights. We ask for your support in dissolving the Pro-Life Society at the University of Manchester as it has potential to cause distress among students who may require access to abortion services now or in future.”

In May new the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 was passed into law via royal assent. This protects the right to express opinions “within the law”. This means that speech is protected unless it breaks a law such as inciting hatred or constitutes harassment.

The University of Manchester Feminism collective stated via email: “Unfortunately due to the new Freedom of Speech Laws it would have been illegal to stop the society being set up. We are in talks with the Student Union about how this society can be monitored and if there are any other safeguards they can implement, and we plan on running more talks and events on this topic this semester.”

In 2018 Manchester Student Union rejected the pro-life organisation the Life Charity from having a stall at their Freshers’ fair as they “did not think the fair is the correct platform for Life”. At the time Anne Scanlon, Life’s Director of Education and Media called for measures to ensure Student Unions were not “impeding freedom of expression”.

Pro-life societies have become a topic of debate at many universities with the most recent statistics indicating that 18 out of 24 Russell Group institutions have a pro-life group.

In 2021 The University of Exeter was embroiled in controversy after a similar petition was launched against the pro-life society. The Exeter Pro-Life Society claimed members had received death threats following the launch of the petition. Members of the Manchester pro-life society claim to have already received such threats.

Mr Vincent said: “We would like to take this opportunity to denounce the hate that has been directed towards those within or supporting the work of our society, and also anyone who responds to that hate with a similarly problematic approach.”

He expressed hope that the society could have “reasonable and dignified conversations” with opponents moving forward.

Mr Vincent previously shared in a story by The Guardian that he is against abortion even in the case of rape and he has proposed adoption as a solution stating that women shouldn’t be “ostracised” for giving up their child.

The pro-life society shared the article containing these views on their Instagram story. Mrs Warlow is particularly concerned about Mr Vincent’s views on this issue.

She said: “The president of the society confirmed that he is even against abortion for victims of rape which frankly, reads as a callous opposition to the well-being of people with wombs.”

She was keen to express that she did not agree with death threats like those reported in Exeter but believes that views held by pro-life organisations “need to be challenged, ideally with a stern but educational approach”.

CathSoc and The University of Manchester Student’s Union had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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