Students for Life in Britain

by Peter Smith

In mid-January, the ballroom of a glitzy hotel in central London was taken over by young men and women in black tie and evening gowns. The Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS) was christened in front of an audience of several hundred students, well-wishers and older hands belonging to the prolife campaign in Britain.

imageAPS was born with a strong statement of intent. No more prolife meetings of poorly-dressed misfits, sparsely filling an empty church hall in one of the grimmer suburbs. The Millennial generation – those who came of age in the 2000s – have reached out and asked for the burden of prolife campaigning, and gently they are being passed the mantle.

Even the name, pronounced as a word, gives the Alliance a contemporary, up-to the-minute feel, as it harks to the apps which drive our mobile computing interfaces and keep us wired into the social world fluxing around us.

Its objective is to ‘support, connect and educate’ prolife students on university campuses across Britain, and to foster and train a new generation of prolife campaigners. This is very welcome. I know from personal experience how prolife societies feel isolated and unsupported, particularly given the high turnover of students and the sudden graduation of the most experienced. APS is thinking not only of those who will actively take a stand against abortion, but also the quieter forming of consciences amongst medical, law, politics, acting, media and teaching students. This is a long term, cohesive project.

APS is the baby of Eve Farren, a confident and friendly 22 year old who speaks with a slight rise in her voice, a product of ten formative years in Durban, South Africa. She was recently profiled by the Catholic Herald and explained how, with two close friends at the University of Bristol, the idea of a national student body grew. From the outset the professionalism of her and her co-workers stands out (again, in stark comparison to the bitchy mal-administration of yesteryear): they have raised the funds for a full-time co-ordinator, and I’m assured the accounts look good for the immediate future. Whatever happens, this will be no flash-in-the-pan streak of good intentions and hot air.

Another useful role APS will have is in campus counselling for students today. In 2011 over 20,000 – yes, twenty thousand – abortions were performed on girls aged 18 or 19. Over 3000 of these were repeat terminations. Other than their mothers, there are no better counsellors, supporters, baby-sitters, fund-raisers or shoulders to cry on for pregnant students than their peers.

David Alton, a former MP who sits as a peer in the House of Lords, gave the keynote speech (in the crowd I saw Jim Dobbin MP and Fiona Bruce MP from the cross-party Parliamentary pro-life group). David has ceaselessly campaigned for the dignity of the unborn, the dying and the oppressed person for many decades. He reminded listeners that the words, ‘It’s a girl’, are the most lethal in many parts of the world, including India and China. One in five British pregnancies ends in a termination – almost 98% of which are under the so-called ‘social clause’ of the 1967 Abortion Act. Along with abortion, embryo research and euthanasia also scrape away at human dignity. Since the law changed in 1990, over 1.7 million foetuses have been created and destroyed for medical research, but without a single proper medical treatment being developed but for that death. Contrast the 80 – and growing – from adult stem cell research. And remember, warned Alton, the words of Baronness Mary Warnock, author of an important report on euthanasia: there may be a “duty to die” amongst the most gravely-ill, lest they “waste the lives” of their carers.

He reminded us too of GK Chesterton’s words: “To admire mere choice is to refuse to choose”.

Eve Farren spoke well and at-length. A particularly magnanimous moment came when she mentioned SPUC – the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child – in the same breath as Life, Right to Life, Comment on Reproductive Ethics, the Prolife Alliance and other prolife charities. There has been a big split in British prolife campaigning in recent years, largely driven by a clash in tactics. Some say that incremental changes to abortion laws will mean compromises and run the risk of further embedding the legal right to abortion; the only way is to create the environment for a wholesale repeal of the 1967 Act. Others counter this view by pointing out how many small battles there are in the conflict between a culture of life and the culture of death; it is impossible simply to declare victory one day without winning a single skirmish. For APS, these debates are moot political points. The task is to change the culture first.

APS explicitly hopes to forge alliances with prolife feminists and prolifers from all religions and none, and to build relationships with prolife students overseas (Students for Life of America have been a big influence on APS). Naturally, they are adept at using social media, and realistic too: a full website is in development and its launch will not be rushed. Costs are under control. The aim is to build institutional memory and capacity, and not to re-invent the wheel. No doubt there will be personality clashes and difficulties, but I hope they learn from mistakes and set-backs and, as Churchill put it, “keep buggering on”.

One can only wish this enthusiastic team the best of luck as they forge this network and have an positive impact on the British attitude to the unborn child. As David Alton concluded, “my generation bequeathed you a culture of death; your generation’s task is to build that culture of life.”

If supporters would like to get in touch with the APS team, email them on or telephone (0044) 7568 355677.


Peter Smith is a lawyer in London. He has previously worked for a Conservative Member of Parliament, and has written for and The Commentator.

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