Welcome to Northern Ireland, where you can have any view that you like on abortion - just so long as it's pro
Abortion is a contentious and controversial issue - and not just in Northern Ireland. The subject is featured regularly in the media and there are many campaigns and lobbying groups both for and against abortion. It has been debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the past and will be debated again in the future.
I was interested, therefore, to receive an email advertising a seminar in the Assembly on “Abortion Policy and Law: Key Considerations”. It is planned for November 16 and is part of the Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS), organised by the Assembly’s Research and Information Service in partnership with Queen’s University, Ulster University and the Open University.
The five invited speakers are all university academics and the subject is one in which I have an interest, so I put the date in my diary. But, out of curiosity, I decided to find out a little more. It was at that point that the reality of the planned seminar became clear.
Because this is not the first time that the same five speakers have taken part in an event together. Back in June, they were at the Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference — The Unfinished Revolution II, an international conference hosted by the Institute of Research in Social Sciences at the Ulster University in Belfast. Indeed, three of the five speakers were on the organising committee.
So, who did they choose as their keynote speakers for their conference in June? They chose Professor Marlene Gerber Fried, a strident pro-abortionist, who has been a socialist activist since the 1960s, and Professor Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, another pro-abortion activist.
There was no attempt to provide academic balance; this was a single-track agenda to advance an abortion “revolution” that is, for them, as yet “unfinished”.
Indeed, that title raises the question of what their end-goal really is. For example, one of the speakers invited by officials to Stormont actually wrote an article in the Guardian suggesting that, in Great Britain, “sex-selective abortion” may not always be illegal.
Lest there be any doubt about the nature of the June conference, another of the organisers was Emma Campbell, who was described as being from the Ulster University Research Institute for Art and Design, but who also campaigns with the lobby group Alliance for Choice.
This seems to have been a closed shop, where any view could be expressed ... so long as it was pro-abortion.
The UU website described the keynote speakers as bringing “a wealth of knowledge as academics and activists”.
And that is a very telling phrase: “academics and activists”.
It is sometimes assumed that academics are automatically independent and objective, that they operate at a level above the partisan lobbyist and the political activist, and sometimes that may be true. But every so often, it isn’t.
As the university website emphasises, you can be an academic and an activist.
You can be an academic and a partisan lobbyist.
So, this raises questions about the forthcoming KESS seminar at Stormont, because all five speakers were previously associated with the Unfinished Revolution conference and all are on the pro-abortion — or, as they describe it, “pro-choice” — side of the debate. It also raises questions about the nature and culture of the academic world in Northern Ireland.
Are there no university academics who hold a different view on abortion? Do they not exist? Or do they not get invited to university conferences and Assembly seminars?
Moreover, if that is the situation in our universities as regards abortion, what is the situation in those universities as regards other contentious issues?
The organisers of the proposed seminar have actually done us all a favour, because by being so totally unbalanced they have unwittingly exposed and highlighted issues that needs to be explored.
What is proposed for the KESS seminar next month is shamelessly unbalanced and totally unfair. It is presented as the sharing of impartial academic expertise, but is simply providing a platform for academic activists.
Next week the Assembly is in recess. But the week after could be very interesting.