Students to present University with petition to defund and disaffiliate with pro-life club

Michael Zacharatos

The UTS Students’ Association (‘UTSSA’) denounced ActivateUTS’ affiliation with LifeChoice UTS at the most recent Students’ Representative Council meeting. UTSSA Secretary Luke Chapman raised the motion, insisting “ActivateUTS should stop using student money to fund the anti-choice movement”.

The emergence of the club has sparked outrage among students. Chloe Malmoux-Setz, the Women’s Collective Convenor, feels this “create(s) an uncomfortable presence on campus for women” and, disturbingly, implies that “UTS is a non-progressive university that does not support pro-choice. The university has thus taken the voices away from the student body and made a decision on behalf of all of us, without consultation and regard”.

However, this is not UTS’ first encounter with the anti-choice club.

On 13 May 2013 the University of Sydney chapter of LifeChoice allegedly distributed false medical information within a first-year lecture concerning the contraceptive pill RU486, which suggested use of pill meant women would experience “the trauma of seeing the dead foetus”. This was promptly debunked, the said “foetus” actually being blood clotting.

That same year, LifeChoice’s attempt to open a branch at UTS was met with backlash, and saw a petition by the Women’s Collective gather 361 signatures. LifeChoice did not affiliate with the UTS Union (now rebranded as ‘ActivateUTS’) that year, though Elizabeth Morgan-Brett, ActivateUTS CEO, clarified for Vertigo that this was not due to any denial of application from their end, but rather LifeChoice failing to complete their application and “[adhere] to administrative requirements”.

While not currently listed on the LifeChoice overseeing website, LifeChoice UTS appears undeniably linked to the head organisation, operating with the same logo and identical, vague tagline: “Our aims are to promote the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, through reasonable and informed discussion on the issues of abortion and euthanasia in Australian society.

Now, four years on, LifeChoice UTS has affiliated with ActivateUTS and will be holding their welcome drinks event this Friday evening at the Loft, with the innocuous invitational headline: Drinks for Life. This, and the paradoxical title for an anti-choice club, ‘LifeChoice’, have been criticised as misleading and not indicative of the club’s true nature. UTSSA Women’s Officer, Leya Reid, predicts “the information presented [at the event] will be sectarian and will explicitly condemn abortions on ‘moral’ grounds” and that this ultimately “intimidates and pressures students into believing that they have no choice when it comes to making incredibly challenging and disruptive decisions regarding their personal health”.

Article 3 of the UTS Student Charter refers to all students having the right to “enjoy a learning environment which is free from sexual, racial, or gender-based harassment and other forms of intimidation”. Malmoux-Setz believes the club is in violation of this clause, and that the upcoming welcome drinks event is just a “tool to manipulate students into thinking that this society is not harmful”.

It is unclear how much funding LifeChoice UTS can expect to receive this year, and whether they can finance additional social and promotional events. ActivateUTS CEO Morgan-Brett states “club funding applications for social & cultural clubs are event based, and all are assessed on an event by event basis”.

Regardless, students are insisting on immediate action. Chapman and Reid have launched the ‘UTS Stop Funding Harassment and Intimidation: Deregister LifeChoice’ campaign, which requests that ActivateUTS, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and Vice-President disaffiliate with the LifeChoice UTS and cease all financial and organisational support. Reid explained that “the UTSSA will be launching [the] campaign on the same night at the Loft to challenge the anti-choice agenda”.

Chapman maintains that students are very entitled to discuss their own opinions on abortion, and that the campaign is not just a case of barring free political communication. “[The UTSSA] are happy for anti-choice students to meet on campus, but ActivateUTS is under no obligation to pay for their bar tab”. Reid implies a need to be sceptical of the common ‘free speech’ defence that is often employed in these scenarios. “Under the pretence of fostering a balanced and reasoned space for discussion regarding women’s health… the general welcome drinks aim to increase [LifeChoice’s] membership base and create a confined debate on the practice of abortions”, she said

At this early stage, it is difficult to predict the future of LifeChoice. The UTS club has remained out of the spotlight so far, but if the misleading and distressing actions of other LifeChoice chapters are any indication, then it might only be a short while before lectures are paper bombed with medically misleading fliers. ActivateUTS CEO Morgan-Brett states that clubs “must adhere to the ActivateUTS Clubs Code of Conduct, as well as all policies of the University”, ‘all polices of the University’ presumably including the UTS Student Charter. She went on to say that in the occasion of any policy violation, ”there is a process that is followed, which may include disaffiliation”.

LifeChoice UTS has so far declined any opportunity to comment.