UCD Students’ Union will hold a ‘preferendum’ at the beginning of October this year to decide its policy on abortion. Students will be asked to vote on the 1st and 2nd of October in conjunction with the class representative elections and the referendum on a smoking ban on campus.
The union currently has no stance on abortion, thumb but UCDSU President Mícheál Gallagher believes that it is important to have a referendum on the topic this year. “The reason I thought it was important to have a referendum on it this year is well, capsule fundamentally, view I believe in democracy. I believe in our Union having a policy on important topics such as that. We should have concrete policy on issues like this that students regularly get in contact with us about,” said Gallagher.
When asked why the vote would take the form of a ‘preferendum’, Gallagher told the College Tribune that “in a preferendum you have a multitude of choices. The ballot paper has not been finalised yet but option a could be pro-choice, option b could be pro-life and option c could be abortion in certain circumstances and then option d could be that the union should continue to have no stance on abortion. I really want to put it out there to our membership and get feedback on what our union should be doing for them.”
The UCD Pro-Choice society are also in favour of voters having multiple choices, stating that they welcome the referendum taking the form of a preferendum as “we feel this allows a wide variety of options to be articulated and expressed and we feel that with such a large UCD student population this can only be a positive thing.”
However, Life Society UCD, who are a pro-life group on campus, have concerns over the potential wording of the referendum. In the orientation guide distributed by UCDSU one of the potential options on the preferendum is “abortion under certain circumstances,” which the Life Society feel is too ambiguous, telling the College Tribune that “we have concerns around the ambiguous wording of the referendum. In particular the wording ‘Abortion under certain circumstances.’ What are the ‘certain circumstances’ that they refer to in this option? We are going to be talking to the Student Union to get clarity around this wording.”
A spokesperson for UCD Pro-Choice has confirmed that they will campaign fully to ensure a successful pro-choice result in the referendum, adding that “this is particularly poignant given the long legacy of being an active pro-choice union we have inherited from UCDSU in the past, notably in the SPUC V Grogan case. It is a tradition we are proud to campaign for and one we intend to see upheld.” Life Society UCD wish to speak to the Students’ Union to get full information on the referendum before making a decision as to whether they are going to be involved in the debate in any way prior to the referendum.
In 2006, a L&H debate on abortion was cancelled when members of the society received calls from members of Youth Defence, warning of violence if the debate went ahead. Gallagher told the College Tribune that precautions are in place this year to ensure the safety of voters. He also added that any official campaign teams need to register their interests with the returning officer who will police all materials, posters and fliers.
The Life Society have stated that they support reasonable and informed discussion on the abortion issue at UCD, “Life Society has never undertaken or participated in any attempt to shut down debate on abortion at UCD, nor do we intend to this year.”
The spokesperson for the Pro-Choice society believes that “because abortion and a woman’s right to choose are such divisive issues we expect that the debate will be a heated one.”
“ [We are] confident that any pro choice campaigners will conduct themselves in a respectful and dignified manner,” they added.