Expert says Christ Church college's move contravenes the Education Act

A barrister has said that an Oxford college’s decision not to host an abortion debate is unlawful.

Neil Addison, national director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, said: “It’s an unlawful decision under the Education No 2 Act 1986, which guarantees freedom of speech in universities.

Authorities at Christ Church, Oxford, ruled this week that Oxford Students for Life could not hold a debate on the motion “This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All” at the college. The decision followed calls by the Oxford University Student Union’s Women’s Campaign (WomCam) to cancel the debate between journalists Tim Stanley and Brendan O’Neill.

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The event was due to take place at the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre at Christ Church. WomCam members wrote on Facebook: “We thought we should go and say hi! Bring your friends, and if you want take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate’.”

Mr Addison said: “It is also simply giving into criminal intimidation. If there were concerns, then the police should have been informed to prevent intimidation of the debate.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Oxford Students for Life (OSFL) said: “We are sorry to announce that, after a day of hard work, we haven’t found a venue for the debate. We only expected to have the same rights of expression as any other Oxford student society, and we’re disappointed that scare tactics proved successful.  

“We’re grateful to Tim and Brendan for their patience. We’re also grateful for the many messages of support from those on both sides of the issue. Several pro-choicers have said that we should have been able to hold this debate, including Ann Furedi, who personally expressed her solidarity with OSFL.

“Our society exists to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, including the unborn, elderly, and disabled. We think it is essential that Oxford University allows an open debate on these issues. We’re confident that most Oxford students would prefer free speech to censorship, and we look forward to continuing this hugely important conversation.”