Getting Involved: Talks

This is the second part on a series of posts about why you should join the Students for Life Committee at the AGM on May 1st. Last week we heard about the big debate we organised with the Bristol Debating Union on assisted dying. This week we hear about one of the many talks we host. In the last three years we have hosted well over 20 speakers from academics (Professor Neil Scolding, Prof. Gavin De Costa, Prof. David Paton, Stephen Barrie), to well known pro-life advocates both from the UK (Ann Scanlon, Dan Blackman, Peter Williams) and the USA (Bryan Kemper and Joseph Meaney), to even one talk from nun! (Sr Rosanne Readdy). The last talk this term will be at the AGM from the renown Anthony McCarthy (SPUC, ex Anscombe bioethics) talking about embryology and the ethics of stem cell research.


Prof. David Paton talking last term on what laws reduce abortions

Here is the current Vice President Jenny Markey’s account of the talk from Joseph Meaney (Human Life International)

Last term, Bristol Students for Life was pleased to welcome Joseph Meaney, international coordinator of Human Life International, who provided a talk on the issue of maternal mortality in the third world and the need for a pro-life response. Too often, when discussing the often shocking situation of maternal health in the developing world, the standard response is to call for abortion and contraception to be made more widely available in the countries most gravely affected by maternal deaths. As Meaney’s talk made clear, such an approach is not only frequently disrespectful towards the cultural values of these countries – many of which made clear their distaste for these practices in protesting the arrival of organisations such as Women on Waves, which attempt to provide abortions where this procedure is illegal – but frequently gives little practical help to the women who need it most, focussing on campaigning for abortion rather than taking steps to improve maternal care.


In contrast to this approach Meaney referenced MaterCare International, whose work to provide high quality medical treatment for women and children in the developing countries includes reconstructive surgery for women suffering from obstetric fistulae, setting up maternity centres in rural areas and helping traditional birth attendants to carry out safe deliveries and recognise and refer high-risk pregnancies.

The talk also discussed sex-selective abortion, a tragedy which many of those who identify as pro-choice struggle to confront effectively. All too often, despite their discomfort with this form of “gendercide”, feminist commentators nonetheless declare that it is always the right of the woman to choose an abortion, a sad irony given that crimes such as these take place in societies which do not value women, who are under immense pressure to produce sons. As Meaney’s talk made clear, the most effective way in which to help women in the developing world is not to campaign worldwide legalisation of abortion, but rather to ensure that mothers everywhere can enjoy the high quality medical treatment taken for granted in the wes


Getting Involved: Debates

The Bristol Students for Life AGM will be on May 1st and we are looking for people to fill the following positions:


Over the next few weeks I will be posting various reasons on why you should get involved with the society and go for one of those positions.

An exiting event that the committee has organised this year is a debate. Here is an summary of the debate we organised on assisted dying with the Bristol Debating Union. If this is something you think you be interested in doing next year, get involved!

Debate on assisted dying – written by the current treasurer, Miguel Bravo 

On the 12th December of last year, SFL and the Bristol debating society organised a debate at the University of Bristol on the topic of assisted dying. Figuring speakers who were experts in the field, the debate centred on the motion ‘This house would legalise assisted dying’ which has been a topic of on-going polemical discussion in UK politics for the past few years. Needless to say, the debate resulted in an immensely interesting exchange of ideas, drawing over 50 spectators from diverse backgrounds both within the university student population as well as farther afield.

Assisted dying, where an individual helps another person voluntarily bring about his or her own death, has already been legalised in many countries, most notably The Netherlands, Switzerland and three states in the USA including Oregon.  Attempts to legalise this practice in the UK have so far been unsuccessful, although it still remains very much part of the country’s political agenda. A fifth bill seeking to legalise assisted dying is set to come before parliament in the next few months. In the light of this, the debate provided a much needed public forum for discussion on this pertinent topic.

2012-12-12 19.58.02

Robert Preston from Living and Dying Well

On the proposition side of the debate were two members of the group ‘Dignity in Dying’: Dr Richard Scheffer and Ann Leedham.  Facing them was Robert Preston, the director of the think tank ‘Living and Dying Well’, and Stephen Barrie from the Oxford-based ‘Anscombe Bioethics centre’. The points raised by each side were compelling in their own right. Roughly, the proposition took the line that people with crippling disabilities who wished to end their own lives ought to be guaranteed by law the assistance to do so on compassionate grounds. By contrast, the opposition argued that legalising assisted dying would systematically put weak and vulnerable hospital patients in danger since this practice would become the norm rather than the exception for such people whether or not they consented, as has been the case in the Netherlands.

2012-12-12 20.32.22
Stephen Barrie from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre

After the debate proper had ended, the public were then allowed to ask questions. This was, perhaps, the most interesting part of the proceedings as many of the key assumptions implicit in the speaker’s arguments were consequently drawn out and subjected to scrutiny. One insightful question related to the conditions under which a person would be eligible for assisted dying since the extreme disability cases are rare and do not provide a general criterion for eligibility. The opposition replied that the individual’s right to personal autonomy regarding their own life dictates that, in principle, anyone of a sound mind is eligible to undergo assisted dying if they so wish. But, as was subsequently pointed out, this would entail that health professionals have a corresponding duty to end a patient’s life upon request which is controversial. Another related question called attention to the fact that the individual’s personal autonomy is not the only, or even the weightiest, consideration guiding public policy; matters to do with the common good must also be borne in mind which appear to conflict with the individualistic desire for assisted dying.

All in all, the debate was extremely enlightening as it made crystal clear what the opposing positions on the assisted dying topic actually amounted to, enabling the public to come to a well-informed decision as to which one they favoured. Although no official winner was declared, the general consensus was that the opposition came out on top since their view rested on the plausible idea that institutionalising killing in hospitals would systematically put the vulnerable at risk; more so than if such a practice were kept illegal. On the other hand the proposition’s appeal to personal autonomy as the ultimate justification for assisted dying led to the unpalatable consequence that health professionals’ duties are subject to the individualistic whims of their patients. As we all know, no man is an island but belongs within a community of other people. It seems that proponents of assisted dying forget this.

Launch of the Alliance of Pro-Life Students

Bristol SFL will be attending the launch of an exiting new student organisation in January. This was started by the Former President of Bristol Students for Life and came out of a joint effort of Bristol, Cardiff, York and Edinburgh pro-life societies. This is not one to miss. If you would like to come, please let me know

This is a new student initiative which aims to bring prolife students accross the country together and provide them with support and resources to bring the prolife message to students on campus.

With the increase in the number of student unions that are declaring themselves ‘prochoice’ and silencing the prolife voice, this is desperately needed.

The launch event will be held at the Thistle Hotel in Marble Arch on the 16th January at 7.30pm. Lord Alton will be speaking and drinks and canapes are included in the price.

The tickets are £25 (£15 for students). The tickets can be purchased online from the link below.

Debate: ‘This House would Legalise assisted dying’

The Bristol Debating Union and the Students for Life society have teamed up to organised a public debate on the subject of euthanasia. The motion reads “This house would legalise assisted dying”.  This issue is both controversial and topical: in January a bill to legalise Assisted Dying will be put forward in Parliament. This is the seventh time such an attempt has been made. More info can be found in these articles: )

The debate, to be chaired by the BDU, will consist of four speeches followed by questions from the floor. 

Speaking on team proposition are two board members from the organisation Dignity in Dying: Dr Richard Scheffer and Ann Leedham (
Speaking on the opposition we have Robert Preston, director of the Living and Dying Well Think Tank, and Stephen Barrie from the Anscombe Bioethics centre, Oxford (
It is vital we get lots of pro-lifers there
Hope to see you all there!
When: 12th December, 7.30pm

Where: Enderby Room, Physics, Tyndalls Road

Talk: Prof. David Paton on Nov. 14

Bristol Students for Life will be hosting the prestigious economics lecturer David Paton from the Nottingham Business School. He will be looking at the statistics and evidence for different kinds of laws and their impact on abortion statistics. There are currently over 200,00 abortions a year in the country, this was never anticipated when the Abortion Act was passed in 1967. What is the best way, through law, to get this reduced?

Come along and find out!

We will then head to Wetherspoons for a few drinks afterwards

Plenty of opportunity for questions afterwards

Where: Enderby Room, Physics, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol

When: Wednesday 14th November, 7.30pm

More information:

What is it to be a person? – A philosophical investigation into personhood

Central to the abortion debate is the matter of what it is to be a human person since this status endows upon its bearer basic human rights, importantly, the right to life. The upshot is that if it can be established that unborn foetuses from the moment of conception are human persons, then abortion stands as an unlawful practice as it denies the unborn their right to life. In this short article I will argue that the unborn do in fact count as human persons, firstly, by showing that being a human person is not characterised by the ability to perform certain human functions (e.g. be self-conscious, be able to feel pain, be able to reason) as is popularly held these days. I will then proceed to show, in all generality, that any attempt along these lines to cite a certain property or feature the possession of which makes a mere human being count as a human person is bound to fail, since there is no such property to be found. Therefore, being a human being, which is a minimal requirement for personhood, turns out to be the only requirement so that the two concepts are actually one. From this, since it is uncontroversial that the unborn belong to the species homo sapiens – science proves this much – I conclude that they are human persons.

Almost all philosophical attempts at justifying the practice of abortion revolve around denying that the unborn are human persons due to the implications of this mentioned above. This often manifests itself as a claim to the effect that to be a person is to be able to perform certain distinctively human functions such as being self-conscious or being sentient or being able to reason. Let us call this line of argument the functionality argument. Although appealing – persons do seem to be the only kind of entity that can perform such functions – it suffers from a fatal flaw in that it fails to take into account the permanence of the status of personhood. More precisely, if you are a person you cannot then cease being so otherwise all talk of personhood bringing with it inalienable rights becomes superfluous as you could indeed lose these rights upon losing your status of personhood. To see why the functionality argument leaves out the permanence requirement of personhood, consider two twins Jack and Jake who are identical in all things but their ability to perform the above mentioned distinctively human functions, since Jack has been in a coma from birth, and Jake hasn’t. In this very possible scenario, if the functionality requirement were true then we would have to conclude that Jake is a person but Jack isn’t which is obviously absurd.


The above failing in the functionality argument can be generalised to include any argument fitting into the schema: S is a person just in case they are a human being with property X. This is because for any plausible candidate for X we can always think of a situation in which this would leave out human beings from the community of persons who obviously are persons. Although some of these situations may seem farfetched, the fact that they are still conceptual possibilities rules out any attempt at making personhood the logical equivalent a human possessing some property X as this argument schema asserts. However it does have a kernel of truth in that it places a constraint on what counts as a person to require being a human first. Let us call this requirement the human requirement. It is uncontroversial that to be a person you need to be a human, for we do not go around saying of animals, no matter how smart they are, that they are persons. Since we have already shown that any further qualification of human to the effect that they possess a certain property provides too restrictive a characterisation of personhood, we can conclude that personhood just is to be human.

Finally, it is a scientific fact that the unborn are human beings from the moment of conception, since the only requirement is that they possess the full complement of human DNA which they do. After all, it is purely on the basis of genetic similarity that modern science draws distinctions between the different species in the animal kingdom. From the foregoing discussion, this implies that the unborn are persons and so have a legitimate claim to the right to life which is obviously deprived of them by the practice of abortion.

This was written by the charity rep of Bristol Students for Life a final year Maths and Philosophy Student

Breaking Down Common Misconceptions #2

Sorry for the time lag from the last post, but exams have taken priority. However now my exams have finished, I can get back writing about what’s really important – pro life issues! Following on from the first misconception that pro lifers harass people, I would now like to tackle another misconception of pro lifers that we are anti-women.

Misconception #2 – Pro Life = Anti-Women

The Bristol Anarchist Federation have recently published a blog post entitled “Anti-choice IS anti-women” because pro lifers “believe that women should not have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies”.

I would like to rebut this argument. Firstly, what do they mean by anti-choice? What choice? I like to think I encourage choice in most aspects of life: in what supermarket people shop at, what blog they read, what views they hold, that is choice isn’t it? In a liberal democracy most people have a sufficient amount of choice in their life. However choice isn’t an absolute right. Choice is limited where there is potential for harm to the individual or society, where the law limits choice. For example incest isn’t a choice under UK law, neither is murder or robbery. So we can hopefully agree that most people are “anti-choice” is some regards, for some issues. Is everyone anti-women then? “Oh but its a choice over their own bodies” I hear you cry. It’s their own body is it? The last I knew a baby is a different person to its mother, with different DNA, a brain, arms, legs, toes, all distinct from its mother. Look at this child at 16 weeks

Looks like a baby doesn’t it? Thats because it is! When does it become a person if it isn’t one then. Is personhood is defined by the cutting of an umbilical chord or by an arbitrary time limit. So if you agree that choice should be limited in some circumstances to avoid harm to other humans, and the fetus is an autonomous being, then there is sufficient reason to limited the choice of a mother to take her own child’s life, no?

Now, we’ve got the whole “anti-choice” rhetoric out of the way lets move onto “anti-women”. To be anti-women is to be misogynistic. This can be defined as the “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women” ( Who do you think would be a good source on wether pro life = hatred of women? Perhaps a suffragette who fought for women’s rights would be in a good position to say wether something is anti- women or not. Elizabeth Stanton the 19th Century Feminist argued

“When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”

hang on a minute, is that a feminist defending the unborn? Oh but that was in the 19th Century, we’ve moved on from then, haven’t we? With technology showing the humanity of the unborn, theres even more reason for feminists to be pro life. There’s a large Feminist Pro Life movement in America which can be seen at as well as many prominent pro life feminists in the UK as well. Abortion is a gender issue. A Telegraph investigation has recently revealed that sex selective abortions are happening right now in the UK. Thats right, people’s lives are being taken because they happen be female, in the 21st century. This situation is much worse in China and India where there is a massive gender imbalance because of this issue. This decision is also often as a result of pressure from a boyfriend – so much for choice

Elizabeth Stanton – standing up for Women’s Rights and the unborn

So I hope that is enough evidence to break down the misconception that pro lifers are anti-women. When Bristol Students for Lifesociety was founded by two women (do they hate themselves?!) and helped to pass a motion at the students union with the feminist society to help student parents, it is hard to comprehend how people still see us as anti-women