A pro-life society at the University of Exeter is facing a petition to close them down, as well as a barrage of online comments from people who disagree with their position on abortion.
Exeter Students for Life (ESFL) is not a religious group but contains members who are Christians, including the President Alireza Ghazi-Torbati, who said in a post on Instagram: "As a Christian who believes God's Word is the ultimate authority, I seek to obey Him. God defines abortion as murder, the intentional destruction of a human being made in the image of God. Abortion is part of the rebellion against God."
A petition has been launched online, which has been signed by 7,400 people, to oppose the society's existence and encourage the topic of abortion to be debated within Christian or debating societies.
The petition reads: "Not only is the existence of a society based around a single issue intellectually reductive, it will undoubtedly exacerbate the pre-existing stigmas around abortion, such as shame and self-loathing. Its existence undermines the complexity of each individual woman's experience. This dangerous ideology is one that must be exposed to the opposition, not sponsored by our student union."
Comments on the society's Facebook page have been mostly turned off, with reports of death threats towards the pro-life students. The group is being accused of telling women what to do with their bodies and making the campus feel less safe.
One woman wrote: "having an abortion is a woman's choice and as someone without a uterus you should not force your views on those that do."
Another woman commented: "Well done Ali and all the students involved at exeter students for life for taking on this important work. We need more pro life voices at university. Ignore the trolls, choose your battles."
Pro-life members on the page have argued with those who disagree with them and also used strong language such as 'murder', 'modern genocide' and 'should a mother be allowed to kill her offspring?'.
The Vice-President of the society wrote on his Instagram post: "I do not believe that any woman really wants to have an abortion. I believe that it is a choice made in fear, which is no real choice at all. I believe in humanity's capacity for love and I want to create conditions for its flourishing."
Many pro-life supporters on the page have also encouraged the EFSL committee to stand firm and have responded to criticism from fellow students.
The Student Guild, the University of Exeter's student union, released a statement in response to the ongoing discussion, saying: "We acknowledge that this is an emotive topic to a lot of our community and we can understand that it is something people have different views on and feel strongly about.
"As your Students’ Guild, we support freedom of speech. We want to foster an environment where our members can participate fully, feel able to question and challenge, express new ideas, discuss controversial and or unpopular opinions within the law- all without fear of intolerance or discrimination. We are committed to the principle that both debate and deliberation should not be suppressed, and we encourage and support our members to engage, within the law, in both a constructive and responsible manner to contest any ideas they oppose openly and vigorously."
The Student Guild added that all student groups must follow their code of conduct rules and that any student can make a complaint. It also said that societies are self-funded through events and membership and that the Guild does not agree nor disagree with societies who register with them but allows them to do their own administration.