Head-to-Head: The SU Abortion Referendum


The SU referendum on the UCDSU’s abortion stance takes place next week (November 2nd & 3rd). To debate the issue, Roger Berkeley speaks for the “Yes” vote to make the SU neutral on abortion, while Rachel O’Neill debates for the “No” side to keep the current SU stance.

Yes: Roger Berkeley


COLLEGE is a time when we try to make up our minds on important social and political issues – like the abortion issue.

But why do our Students’ Unions – our voice – only pick one viewpoint to represent all students? Abortion has been called one of the most controversial issues of our nation: surely an organisation that represents thousands of students has room for more than just one opinion?

One of the best things about UCD is the diversity on campus. Whether it’s Juggling Soc throwing random objects around in the student centre, or Game Soc spending the entire semester getting in touch with their inner colonial spirit playing Settlers of Catan outside Theatre L, that’s fantastic! You do you, and UCD – and the SU – aims to cater for that.

It takes all sorts to make the world, and there’s a taste of everything here at UCD. We are all so different, and yet we get along so well: it’s our diversity that makes this University what it is.

If you look at UCDSU’s website, you will see it clearly stating “UCD Students’ Union works to represent every one of the 30,000+ students attending UCD”. And so it should: it’s in the UCDSU Constitution (Art 2.1.2⁰) that the SU should cater for diversity in everything on campus.

But does it?

In 2013, there was a four-way preferendum. One of the options was for unrestricted abortion, yet only a minority (45%) voted for this, opting either for supporting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (abortion when the woman is suicidal), neutral, or pro-life. Thus, while a larger proportion voted for this option than any other individual one, there was only a weak mandate for the ‘abortion in all circumstances’ campaign. It’s also worth noting that since 2015, such a preferendum would no longer be binding on an SU, for that very same reason: most students did not vote for it.

In the wake of such an odd circumstance – being bound by a mandate on a divisive issue that, if held now, would not be binding – we are at an interesting juncture. Despite the nation-wide conversation on changing abortion laws, there are members of UCDSU – the largest Students’ Union in the country – who are deeply opposed to it or have not made up their minds yet. Despite the number of members, that fact dilutes the effect a Students’ Union would have in the political arena.

“There is nothing to suggest that the SU would have to change anything about the services it provides…”

Why not reprise the concept of diversity for this issue too? Why not, at last, give society recognition to both UCD For Choice and UCD Life Soc? Societies gain funding based on the number of members they have, so if the student population has a majority favouring unrestricted abortion as the SU claims, UCD For Choice will get representative funding from the Societies’ Council and politicians will listen to a group which has 100%-member support. You do you, and make your decision on the abortion issue when you feel ready. Give students the choice of which side to take in the national abortion debate.

Many questions have been raised over the last number of weeks as to what passing the referendum would mean. Would it mean the SU would have to change the services and information they provide on the topic of crisis pregnancy and abortion? Would it render the SU ineffective as it would not be taking a stance on an important social and moral issue? Would it give the message that losing sides of any SU referendum could call another referendum to get their own way? In all cases, the answer is no. The campaign was initiated by UCD Students For Fair Representation (UCDSFFR), and thus the aim of the referendum is to enable every voice to be heard.

There is nothing to suggest that the SU would have to change anything about the services it provides, the information it gives to students, or anything of the sort, be it on the issue of abortion or anything else. The Welfare Office of the Students’ Union is there to uphold the welfare of each individual student, according to their personal needs, that will always be the purpose of the Office.

The SU will not be rendered ineffective, should this referendum pass. It has only had an official stance on abortion since the Union Council enacted it two years ago, following the preferendum the previous year. The SU was not ineffective for the previous 39 years of its existence, being at the forefront of social change on the national stage, and would no doubt continue to be going forward. An effective SU represents all students, rather than adopting a stance the majority did not vote.

Finally, there is no precedent being set for future losing sides in referenda to call a follow up if they don’t get their way. The fact is, in 2013, a majority did not win. All voices should be heard – by their own accord.

UCD is so diverse. There is a place for everyone on campus. Let’s give everyone a voice on this divisive and controversial issue.

No: Rachel O’Neill

On the 2nd and 3rd of November, we’re being asked to vote on whether or not our students’ union should have a neutral stance on the topic of abortion in Ireland. This would overturn the decision made by students in 2013 that gave the students’ union their current pro-choice stance. This pro-choice stance includes being pro-contraception, pro-adoption, pro-continuation of pregnancy and pro-provision of access to abortion in Ireland. Voting for neutrality would also prevent the SU’s involvement in campaigning to repeal the 8th amendment.

It is my belief that students should vote no in this referendum. Voting for neutrality says that we are a student body that wants to maintain the status quo. By voting for neutrality, we are condoning the horrific effects that the 8th amendment has had on our population since its installation into the constitution in 1983. By voting for neutrality, we say that it’s ok that nobody of a reproductive age has had the right to vote on this issue.

Voting for neutrality would tell students who have suffered at the hands of the 8th amendment that we don’t care about them. Ten people a day leave Ireland to procure an abortion abroad. In 2015, according to the Irish Family Planning Association, approximately 1,019 of these people were aged between 18 and 24. Students who cannot afford an abortion will often turn to illegal methods such as ordering abortion pills online. Lack of access to safe abortion harms students just as much as anyone else and it’s pivotal that our Students’ Union can support these people in their time of need.

Voting for neutrality maintains the status quo in Ireland. It stigmatises abortion and ensures that students will be less informed about an issue that can and does directly affect them.

Allowing the Students’ Union to have a stance on issues that directly affects students is pivotal. UCDSU has a proud history of representing its students’ views over the years. Just last week, hundreds of students from UCD marched in Dublin to protest against the possibility of introducing a student loan scheme.

“By voting for neutrality, we say that it’s ok that nobody of a reproductive age has had the right to vote on this issue.”

In recent times they have campaigned for the widening of access to contraception and for marriage equality too. If our students’ union is neutral, it means that the students of UCD don’t have a voice and can’t be represented properly. Neutrality benefits nobody in these circumstances and silence on issues like abortion only serve to harm more people than it helps.

It’s also important to state the current stance of the student’s union is to campaign for a referendum on the 8th amendment. A referendum on the 8th amendment would allow everyone to cast their vote on whether they want the amendment repealed or not.

By voting no to this referendum we can continue to encourage the breakdown of stigma on our campus which can have a wider effect in Ireland. We can help students to understand this complex issue and to help them form their own, fully informed views. Voting no will allow our students’ union to campaign to repeal the 8th by providing materials and contacts across UCD. This will allow several organisations to liaise with each other and create a louder voice for students when calling for a national referendum.

As stated previously, by campaigning for a national referendum, we can ensure that all students can have their say on this matter instead of having it decided for them. By voting no we can continue to fight for the human rights of our fellow students, something that is incredibly important. We had no problem doing this when fighting for marriage equality and abortion is no different.

Voting for neutrality might seem like the reasonable thing to do in this referendum. However, when you really look at it as a whole, voting for neutrality means shutting down all conversation about abortion in our university which would be detrimental to the very idea of a university.

College is supposed to be an experience where we become more aware and more informed about social issues. Allowing our students union’ to have a pro-choice stance means that debates can be had about this issue and people can become better informed and make their own decisions about this topic. Neutrality stifles discussion and it would be a shame to see UCD become a place where healthy debate and discussion can no longer take place.