Madeleine Teahan talks to Eve Farren about why she is helping pro-lifers to navigate the jungle of student politics
It is a depressing irony that joining the pro-life society at university is often seen as a serious attempt at social suicide.
When I was president of my university’s pro-life society, persuading kindred spirits to do their stint was not easy. The prospect of manning the society’s stall at the annual Freshers’ Fair always filled me with dread.
You would sit there glum-faced, with an amateurish sign saying, “PRO LIF”, while the fallen letter was trampled somewhere along the floor by a herd of students. To make matters worse, an army of women’s union members would march past staring contemptuously, armed with glossy, colourful leaflets, stating: “Pro-choice and proud.”
Furthermore, this dreaded affair was usually the height of the academic year’s pro-life activism. The inertia that blights pro-life campaigning at universities is partly due to fear and lethargy but also a lack of advice and support. I still regret not doing more for the pro-life society at Cambridge, but had the Alliance of Pro-Life Students been established, a friendly shove in the right direction from Eve Farren might have helped me and others immeasurably.
When I meet Eve for the first time I instantly note that she is well presented and personable. I remember once a pro-life student asking me, before he left for seminary: “Where are all the pro-life women? And why can’t they be normal and hot?”
He had a point. Pro-life students have long suffered an image problem. Eve Farren completely contradicts this frumpy stereotype.
Eve, who will turn 22 next month, is someone who inspires confidence. One can soon see why a pro-life student, trying to find their way through the jungle of student politics, might feel emboldened by direction from Eve and her new society.
The official launch of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students next Wednesday will not be a timid affair in a parish hall with tea and biscuits. Clearly aware of the value of image, Eve and her organisers have opted for a modern hotel in central London with canapés, cocktail dresses and speakers including Lord Alton of Liverpool. Eve hopes that the launch will be an excellent opportunity to raise knowledge and funds for this fresh national initiative. In some ways the market for pro-life organisations is saturated and confusing.
But what makes the new Alliance of Pro-life Students distinctive is that it is a national body which supports local university groups across the United Kingdom. Eve’s appointment as its leader means that, rather than asking a busy student to perform the role voluntarily, the board of directors is employing a graduate to take on the role full-time.
“Very early on we felt that it needed the commitment of a full-time staff member because students don’t have the time,” Eve explains. “Students are too busy with their exams, social lives and their own local student pro-life groups, and so they cannot run a national body as well. Also, when we look at Canada and America and Australia, where existing groups are functioning, they all have full-time staff and that’s how they manage. So that’s always been very much part of the vision.”
So why has a bright drama graduate from Bristol University, who originally aspired to an acting career, postponed her plans and opted for a controversial job with a modest salary?
In fact, when Eve began studying at Bristol University, the prospect of her establishing and leading the local university pro-life group was unthinkable. Although, as a practising Catholic, Eve had always been pro-life, it was not until she attended a student pro-life conference in her first year of university, organised by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), that she grew passionate.
She tells me that when she heard SPUC was hosting a conference in Glasgow she decided to attend purely because she wanted to visit the city. Eve was born and raised in Durban, South Africa, and did not move to London until she was 10. She knew that her grandmother was from Glasgow and so decided to attend the conference as an excuse to trace her Scottish roots.
But during the conference the shock of abortion and embryo experimentation left a lasting impression on her. “I think it’s something which clicks in a lot of people’s heads and it’s quite common that it happens, because life ethics are fundamental to who we are and what we believe and why we are here. But the fact that it is being violated and no one realises is a shock which really does stay with you. Hearing the scientific evidence about it was what really changed my mind in particular.”
Eve met a kindred spirit at the conference in fellow student Annie Howard. They travelled back to Bristol together determined to act. Neither girl slept that night as they chatted excitedly, formulating a plan to establish their own pro-life society at the university.
It was through this new society that Eve’s pro-life journey truly began and she describes to me a rather lonely road. The Bristol University pro-life society, which inspired the creation of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, began with only three girls, including Eve and Annie. When they set up their pro-life stall at the university’s Freshers’ Fair they faced immediate hostility. The leaflets they displayed were snatched by members of the local feminist society who distributed them to their pro-abortion members in order to prevent the spread of pro-life literature. Later that year the Women’s Union proposed a motion which would have made the university officially pro-choice, meaning that it would be the official view of the student body that abortion was a moral option for pregnant students.
This was an immediate test for Eve and the society. They had only three days to prepare to fight the motion and were heckled while they tried to articulate their opposition.
Although they were not successful in blocking the pro-abortion motion, they did successfully introduce a further motion that has left a legacy of support for pregnant women at Bristol University and, ironically, became a mechanism regularly used by the local Women’s Union to help pregnant students. “But I wish there had been a national body to come and support me and give me strength,” Eve explains. “So I thought maybe I should create that body.”
Eve met other pro-life enthusiasts across the country to discuss the possibility of establishing a national pro-life organisation. But as a budding thespian she did not originally intend to apply for the post of leader. “We looked for the right person to do it for a long time,” she explains. “I felt very drawn to it but obviously it’s a big thing to take on. In the end I felt more and more drawn to it and finally I decided it would be a life-changing experience and I really had to take it on. I had no choice. I was so drawn to it.”
I asked Eve if she was worried that this first job would, in some people’s eyes, leave a “stain” on her CV and expose her to prejudice in her future career?
“I think in terms of my personal career I’m sure it will be a stain,” she replies. “The media is extremely biased against the pro-life movement so on a personal level if I ever wanted to go into the media it would be quite a struggle. But I do think it’s really important we have pro-lifers in the media. Once this alliance is on its feet I would like to continue to get the pro-life message across either through theatre or through the media.”
Is she not scared of the further vitriol she is likely to receive in taking on this role?
“But this is the fundamental right to life,” she replies. “Knowing what I know and having gone through what I’ve gone through on student campus, I don’t think I could walk away without doing something.”
The Alliance of Pro-Life Students has its official launch on Wednesday January 16 at 7:30pm.
For further information please visit Allianceofprolifestudents.org.uk or telephone 07568 355677.