Making LifeChoices

By Sydney University student Rachael Hyde

The decision has proved to be one of the more significant in recent USU history, with thousands signing a petition to stop the group. Xavier Symons, writing for The Punch, alliteratively criticised the outrage: “this isn’t feminism; this is frenzied, foam-flecked paranoia.” In fact, Xavier, this outrage is exactly what feminism is. You don’t need to personally hand me a graphic anti-abortion pamphlet for me, or the tens of thousands of other women on campus, to be vilified, and to assert our rights against your funding.Earlier this month, the University of Sydney Union (USU) approved the LifeChoice Society, a pro-life student group, as a member of the University of Sydney’s clubs and societies. This makes Sydney University the only university in Australia to provide funding for a pro-life club. LifeChoices is now eligible for up to $4,000 each year from the USU and its correspondence is legitimised with the University of Sydney logo.

Supporters of LifeChoices have emphasised the free speech element of the debate, claiming that pro-choice supporters (too frequently described as atheists and/or ‘commies’ for a secular, non-partisan society) are stifling their right to express their opinions. Free speech is not now, and has never been, an absolute. When women’s physical and mental health is threatened and their reproductive rights are directly challenged, you lose your claim to legitimacy.

LifeChoices members have also made the somewhat bizarre argument that if a pro-choice group was set up on campus, they would not oppose it. No doubt this is because a pro-choice viewpoint does not claim that women’s hard-won legal rights should be circumscribed. Nor does it directly attack certain individuals for making incredibly difficult, traumatising decisions.

The USU has defended its decision, emphasising that it does not tolerate discrimination or harassment and asserting that if LifeChoices distributes incendiary material or engages in picketing, it will be disbanded. Many pro-choice activists believe this is ‘when’, not ‘if’. Senator Lee Rhiannon has pledged her support for opposition to the group, and has volunteered her assistance in countering any inaccurate materials LifeChoices may develop.

However, regardless of whether LifeChoices does choose to engage in these activities, they have already crossed the line. The existence of this group cannot be equated with people forming clubs on campus that offend a person’s political or religious sensibilities. The existence of a registered pro-life society is not something women at Sydney University should need to ‘get over’ or ‘deal with’ or indeed engage in (generally heated) debate with. There is a significant difference between individuals on campus holding personal opinions on abortion, and the university funding a group which, through its mere existence, harasses and vilifies women.

If push comes to shove, no doubt a pro-choice group in answer to LifeChoices will be developed. But this should not descend into a free-for-all battle of numbers. Regardless of your stance on abortion, it should be recognised that Sydney University providing funding for a pro-life group directly targets and aggrieves a significant cohort of the University’s population, without that group needing to engage in any inflammatory behaviour. Incidentally, if the comments on LifeChoices’ Facebook page are anything to go by, inflammatory behaviour is rife. Although the moderators on the page emphasise the need to be civil, several members have already referred to specific women who dare to question their views as murderers.

Women have fought, and are fighting, a long and hard battle at this university, in this country, and across the globe for equality. In recent decades, the fields on which this battle plays out and the ways that inequality and discrimination manifest themselves may have altered, but clubs like these should serve to remind us that the fight remains as significant to women’s fundamental wellbeing as ever before. The USU needs to get its act together. Until it does, I am going to be attending a university that is less safe, more threatening and, yes, Xavier Symons, more outraged.

The USU will likely hold a general meeting on the issue later this year, which, if you are a member, you can attend and vote at. Otherwise, a petition is available here, and you can email president@usu.usyd.edu.au to let the USU know you disagree with their decision.

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Comments
13 Responses to “Making LifeChoices”
  1. Legion says:

    “Free speech is not now, and has never been, an absolute. When women’s physical and mental health is threatened and their reproductive rights are directly challenged, you lose your claim to legitimacy.”

    Yeah, sorry, no. My rights don’t end where your feelings begin. I have every right to challenge the ethical foundations of certain of your beliefs dear though you may hold them.

    • cynicky says:

      Yes, I can see how the desire to not be forced to give birth to a child that you don’t want, and not to be shamed when you choose to have an abortion is just like “feelings”. Well done on the comprehension.

      • Legion says:

        For a start, i dont know exactly how this group will have any power to limit anyone’s right to choose. And honestly, please tell me why holding and expressing the ethical proposition of the innate worth of human life from conception to natural death counts as ‘shaming’ someone. I’d love to hear how on earth you’re able to link the two. And what makes you think the group will be involved in shaming people anyway? If that actually did happen, we’d likely be in breach of C&S guidelines and probably be struck off. You have to justify to me why we’re literally so dangerous that we can’t be allowed to exist for *any* time at all.

    • Anne says:

      Human rights most commonly come into conflict with other human rights. It’s establishing what should take precedence. Certain countries ban hate speech, to the extent that some European countries have Internet filters to weed it out. So I think this taps into the argument of whether a pro-life society constitutes hate speech against women.

      But in this case, they already had freedom of speech and societies to organise within – what they were asking for was funding. For ‘Achilles Heel’, I have met the President of the society, it’s an offshoot of an American group which pickets abortion clinics (and I have visited their website), to say they’re not political is dependent on your definition of politics, a member of the USyd society has been arrested for protesting outside an abortion clinic, I have read the C&S Regulations and my interpretation is that it contravenes them. And Captain Planet Society had cheese platters on lawns to watch the lights go out on Earth Hour. They didn’t have discuss groups on how to curtail a group of people’s rights.

      • Isabella says:

        ‘LifeChoice Sydney’ has no affiliation with any other societies or clubs. It is not an offshoot of an American group, or any group.

      • Legion says:

        Here’s a radical idea. Why don’t you come to one of our talks next semester? Maybe then you won’t make such baseless accusations. It’s just warped to see pro-life advocacy as even possibly constituting hate speech. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2265083?uid=4&sid=56255205153 Here’s an article in a philosophical journal about using the golden rule to dispute the ethics of abortion. Is this hate speech? If i discuss this is public at a university is it hate speech? The ludicrous thing is that a majority of the society are women. Now, of course you can have anti-women women just like you can have racist blacks or self-hating Jews or anything like that but I defy you to show me a single other group which has a *majority* or people in it who are the very *target* of its hate speech. It’s just absurd.

        I have no idea where you’re getting this whole american affiliation from, first any of us have heard about it.

        Not sure of the full details of the whole ‘arrested member’ thing. Maybe you’re getting your wires crossed with a post on the wall about an arrested Queensland father? Who, by the way, was not arrested for harassment but rather obstruction of property or something like that.

        And what on earth are you trying to insinuate with the whole captain planet society thing? Clubs and societies arent popularity contests.

      • Rebecca Elias says:

        Sorry I wasn’t planning to comment but when I read this I was shocked. You have met me Anne? I can’t remember when I had that pleasure… I certainly don’t remember discussing LifeChoice with anyone called Anne… Then again perhaps an alias?

  2. Christine Says Hi says:

    Sort of surprised at Sydney University’s decision to provide funding for such a group, what ‘type’ does it come under? Social, political, recreational? Of course it’s about anti-choice zealots asserting power over women, and sending a big nyah nyah to women who don’t fall in line. I’d like to say ignore them and they’ll go away, but despite the fact that decades of opinion polls (including those conducted by church groups) have found that most Australians support a women’s right to choose abortion, these bullies won’t go away as long as women have any choices left. Funding them and giving them official recognition emboldens them and provides a neat power base. And proves really why they never have to be more respectful of women, or women’s views. Cool, eh. It’s easy to see how this type of thing continues throughout history. Those in power are almost always willing to give a leg up to those who can help them oppress someone, and short of other targets women invariably come in handy for the purpose. Every best wish to Sydney University women in dealing with

    • Achilles Heel says:

      The question here is when you (Christine) say “such a group”. You immediately know that of course that the group is made of “anti-choice zealots asserting power over women”. Who told you? Do you know the people in question? Have you visited their website? You can’t have seen them doing it because they haven’t even had a single event yet. Yet you seem to know a lot about these people! They claim they want reasoned discussions about the issues, that they have no political or legal aims or goals.
      Honestly I don’t get what all the fuss is about, and I am a woman also- if they want to talk about the issues, in a respectful way, let them! And if the Uni likes mutual-interest groups such as the Captain Planet Society, then they can fund this mutual interest group.
      Chill! And if later they show themselves to be nothing more than power hungry males wishing to suppress women, well then they can be banned.

  3. Isabella says:

    The aims of LifeChoice as stated in the society’s constitution is, ‘to promote the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, through reasonable and informed discussion on the issues of abortion and euthanasia in Australian society.’ The society is explicitly non partisan and has no intention in lobbying to change legislation regarding abortion. There is no threat to reproductive rights. We want to engage in a dialogue concerning two of the most relevant moral issues of our time, we want to contribute to a debate that has been monopolized by one side.

    It is highly presumptuous to expect we will be harassing individuals by distributing inflammatory material. We recognize the contentious nature of these issues, as such they command reasoned thought and uttermost respect for all involved. The society is not forcing their views onto Sydney Uni students. As the greatest platform for student’s free speech, the union has the responsibility to allow LifeChoice to contribute to the diverse student experience on offer.

    It is disconcerting to read you feel vilified and harassed by the mere notion a pro life group exists, before that group has even started operation. To conflate the pro life movement with the vilification of women is highly prejudicial. LifeChoice intends to approach these issues on a philosophical and medical basis, with one premise: the respect for all stages of life.I would think the views an individual holds to be true with such staunch determination require the greatest consideration, it is baffling as to why you would wish to stifle the expression of opinions that counter your own. This is a remarkably illiberal view for someone advocating ‘choice.’

    Ultimately, casting LifeChoice as a threatening force on campus is a baseless assertion.

  4. Isabella says:

    The aims of LifeChoice as stated in the society’s constitution is, ‘to promote the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, through reasonable and informed discussion on the issues of abortion and euthanasia in Australian society.’ The society is explicitly non partisan and has no intention in lobbying to change legislation regarding abortion. There is no threat to reproductive rights. We want to engage in a dialogue concerning two of the most relevant moral issues of our time, we want to contribute to a debate that has been monopolized by one side.

    It is highly presumptuous to expect we will be harassing individuals by distributing inflammatory material. We recognize the contentious nature of these issues, as such they command reasoned thought and uttermost respect for all involved. The society is not forcing their views onto Sydney Uni students. As the greatest platform for student’s free speech, the union has the responsibility to allow LifeChoice to contribute to the diverse student experience on offer.

    It is disconcerting to read you feel vilified and harassed by the mere notion a pro life group exists, before that group has even started operation. To conflate the pro life movement with the vilification of women is highly prejudicial. LifeChoice intends to approach these issues on a philosophical and medical basis, with one premise: the respect for all stages of life.I would think the views an individual holds to be true with such staunch determination require the greatest consideration, it is baffling as to why you would wish to stifle the expression of opinions that counter your own. This is a remarkably illiberal view for someone advocating ‘choice.’

    Ultimately, casting LifeChoice as a threatening force on campus is a baseless assertion.

  5. Christine Says Hi says:

    Achilles heel, I hope you don’t just chill all the way to the situation women in the US are currently facing, where all that free speech goodwill and legal protection got them …

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