With the UCDSU Abortion Preferendum imminent, Anna Carnegie asks whether the SU should take a stance toward the issue, or whether it should be up to the individual student to choose
The ballot boxes are upon us. On the 1st and 2nd of October, UCD students will be asked to vote on the Students’ Union’s stance on abortion and whether smoking should be banned on campus. Both concern freedom of choice. The question is, should the Students’ Union have the say for its students as an entirety? Or should they allow us, as individuals, our own right to choose?
We’re not just deciding on a women’s right to choose, or the individual’s right to smoke, but whether or not our SU should take a stance on abortion and, if so, what that stance should be. What does ‘taking a stance’ even involve? Should the SU have the power to speak for UCD students at all?
To answer this, it seems wise to look at the Union’s involvement in other national issues. Let’s take the example of student fees. As well as coming out against the introduction of fees in the media, SU officers also took to the streets in protest, along with Unions from around the country, encouraging the student body to do the same.
So, what if you were, dare it be said, pro-fees? Would it be a violating your freedom of choice to know that the Union you were a part of disagreed with your views? Your views are still your own. It is not a political party that is going to expel you if you disagree with its opinion.
As a student, you may disagree with what the SU were campaigning for, especially since your fees fund the SU, but they represented the view of the majority, decided through a preferendum.
It could be argued, quite validly, that the anti-fees campaign and the abortion issue are wildly divergent. The former affects every student; the latter does not. Student fees are exclusive to students. Abortion is not.
Let’s take another example: equal marriage. Here, the similarities are clear. Both are politically controversial issues, and both are intertwined with aspects of Irish culture and religion. Last year, we saw the Union stepping forward and addressing the subject head on.
UCDSU took part in the March for Marriage Equality after conducting a survey which indicated that over 93% of students favoured equal marriage. The SU realised that it had a role to play in changing the political landscape of this country.
In all likelihood, there were a small minority who, for whatever reasons, did not agree with the message behind the March for Marriage. What were they to do? Quite simply, if they were against it, they need not attend. Once again, their hand was not being forced by the SU’s actions.
In one sense, we have more choice in the abortion argument as students than we did as Irish citizens. The decision to pass the important legislation was made because of a legal decision and not because of a referendum.
That being said, the SU is not akin to a national government; nor should it be. In general, students look to their representatives to be a unique voice of the university in a way that is simply not required of our elected TDs. The SU is all about giving the University a community feel, in which every student has a voice.
However, how can one feel like part of this community when their views are contradictory to the party line? Not everyone is going to agree on an issue as controversial as abortion. Might it not be better for the SU to remain neutral, letting each student have their own individual opinion?
The more cynical amongst us may wonder where this will end. Will the SU begin taking a stance on an increasing number of national issues, until they become something of a pseudo-political party? This will alienate not only current students who disagree with the majority view, but may also turn prospective UCD graduates away from attending the university in the first place.
There is a danger that it will also distract from more pressing student-centric matters. The SU offices are a hive of activity as it is, how would our officers be able to cope with overseeing both university and national issues? In all likelihood, something would have to go.
On the other hand, it could be said that the influence and resources that the SU has gives its students a greater freedom of choice. Individually, students may not feel that they can make a difference. Together, they have a stronger voice and a possibility to change things.
Is it unfair then, for the minority who disagree to put a stop to these efforts? Or should it be the case that those interested in making national changes should join an independent group to do so?
On an issue as potentially life-changing as abortion legislation, is it not right that we, the future of this country, take a stance publicly through the voice of the SU? The very nature of a subject being divisive works both ways.
Yes, individuals should be entitled to their own opinion, but if the majority are calling for change this too should be taken onboard. We should not shy away from action at the risk of offending a select few.
The question of whether the SU should get involved in the divisive issue of abortion could be debated for hours on end. What it comes down to is if you don’t think that the SU should get involved, then get out and vote that way. If you think our elected representatives should campaign for or against abortion, then tell them. You have that choice.