Free speech row breaks out at Aberdeen University over abortion posters

University of Aberdeen students Randi Morse, Carloto Demony and Jasmin Moussapacha are upset at pro-abortion posters in The Universities' Catholic Chaplaincy window at Old Aberdeen, High Street. Picture of (L-R) Jasmin Moussapacha, Carloto Demony, Randi Morse. Picture by KENNY ELRICK

A row over free speech has broken out at a north-east university, following a display of posters advertising an anti-abortion protest.

The 40 days of Life event, featuring people holding signs and prayer vigils, has been taking place daily outside the city’s maternity hospital since March 1 and aims to cover the whole of Lent until April 13.

But some student groups at Aberdeen University have expressed outrage at the Catholic chaplaincy on the campus displaying posters for the meeting and have signed a mass letter calling for their removal.

The building is owned by the Catholic Church, who insist that abortion is morally wrong.

The letter, signed by nearly 250 people and groups at the time of writing including the Aberdeen Feminist Society, states: “While we understand the church’s stance on reproductive issues, we feel that it is deeply inappropriate to display posters encouraging people to take action outside maternity clinics.

“Our campus is a place for discussion, but displaying material that appears to condemn those who have had abortions is actively harmful.”

However, the church insisted that “freedom of speech should be at the heart of academic life”.

Randi Morse, a sex and gender student, 29, said: “Abortion is not an easy choice to make and if a woman has decided to make that choice, it is harmful to make her feel stigmatised for it.”

Jenny Killin, the student association’s welfare officer, added: “Freedom of speech should never be used as an accuse to attack individuals who are exercising bodily autonomy or accessing healthcare. ”

But a spokesman for the Bishop of Aberdeen responded: “Freedom of speech and expression should be at the heart of academic life.

“The decision by the Catholic chaplaincy to display a poster advertising a peaceful pro-life vigil cannot in any way be deemed harmful or distressing.

“The 40 Days for Life Vigils are peaceful, yet poignant reminders of the tragic reality of abortion. Almost half a million unborn lives have been lost in Scotland since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed and it continues to carve a deep scar on our society.”

Liberal Democrat councillor, Jennifer Stewart, added: “People have strong views on protecting life – if the poster is not offensive, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t display it.”

A University of Aberdeen spokeswoman said: “This building forms part of the Catholic Diocese and as such, is not a University-owned or managed facility, so it falls outwith our control.

“Any posters displayed on University property will be dealt with appropriately.”