In response to recently released statistics on abortions in Ireland over the past year, both the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Pro-Life Campaign issued polarising statements. Official statistics reveal that 6,666 abortions were carried out in Ireland during 2019, an increase from 2,879 who reported travelling for an abortion in 2018. In their statements, each had one sentiment in common: while the referendum may have passed, their fight is not over.
Maeve O’Hanlon of the Pro-Life Campaign spoke of “an open and honest debate” and called for an end to what she termed “the State sponsored choreography of abortion”. On the other hand, Cathie Shiels of the ARC, spoke positively of the news but stressed the need for further action, saying “we should seek to address the many remaining problems of a system where people are still forced overseas to access healthcare we voted for at home.”
Yet despite their fervour, their issues seem to have passed from the public conscience, especially here at UCD.
The referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment consumed this country, and especially Belfield. The University already had history with the subject: the widespread protests of the 1960’s and 70’s had permanently entwined Irish reproductive rights with the UCD student experience. So, in 2018, both leading up to and during the campaign, it was only natural for reproductive rights to feature often on campus in highly attended debates, passionate demonstrations, and major political controversies.
Since Repeal passed, however, the student population has generally (and understandably) moved on. Societies stopped running house debates on the subject, and student activists found new areas of focus like housing and mental health. Some students, however, are still determined to pursue their cause.
The UCD Life Society is a pro-life student group who, like their national counterparts, do not believe their cause has ended. The group is unofficial, claiming on their Facebook Page that they were “refused society recognition”. This is presumably due to the Students’ Union’s pro-choice mandate, which has recently expired. When asked about some of their lobbying efforts, their funding sources, and their status as a society, the Life Society declined to comment, saying they were “not in a position to answer questions at the moment”.
However, despite being formally unrecognised, the organization has a considerable social media following, and has even successfully campaigned for changes in Union policy. As an earlier College Tribune article reported, the Life Society and the UCDSU (then still under the leadership of Joanna Siewierska) had, and will continue to have, discussions concerning a mandate to jointly pursue greater “parental supports” at UCD, and in Ireland as a whole.
Parental supports are often promoted by pro-life advocates as a way to decrease abortion rates. In summary, their argument is that women who face an unwanted pregnancy are less likely to have an abortion if it’s easier for them to raise their child, thanks to policies like paid parental leave. To support their argument, they cite the fact that abortion rates tend to be lower in countries with robust family policy. Critics, on the other hand, say that correlation may not necessarily equate to causation, as many of these countries also invest more into sex education and make contraception more readily accessible.
When asked for comment on parental supports, the UCDSU’s Welfare Officer Ruairí Power said, “We recognise the astronomical costs associated with accessing childcare in Ireland currently and will be advocating for the creation of a public model of childcare provision.”. He also spoke of how “It’s important that the Union leads by example. As such, we are currently reviewing the accessibility of Union events and structures to make sure that the voices of parents and carers are heard at every level.”
The SU also confirmed through Campaigns and Engagement Officer Leighton Gray that it “is proudly pro-choice, as is the will of the student body” and that “UCDSU welcomes that in 2019, 6,666 people had access to a free, safe and legal abortion in their home country.” Critically, they also mentioned that “Although UCDSU is working to improve parental supports and to prevent crisis pregnancies, it is important to note that the 6,666 is not a figure we aim to decrease.”
Jack McGee – Reporter