Student Union pres. impeached after scrapping handbook with illegal abortion info
DUBLIN, Ireland, November 6, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- The president of the Student Union at University College Dublin in Ireland has been ousted from her post by a majority vote from students after she refused to let illegal abortion information be published in a student handbook.
Students at the university founded by Blessed John Henry Newman voted 69 percent in favor of impeaching pro-life Student Union president Katie Ascough. In a process that began on Oct. 25, a total of 6,611 students voted over a period of two days. Reports say some individuals lined up for close to half an hour to cast their ballots.
The referendum to get rid of Ascough focused largely on her decision to remove illegal information about abortion access from the annual student handbook, which was titled “Winging It.” A section of the handbook outlined how students could purchase illegal abortive pills over the internet as well as the cost of having abortions in countries outside of Ireland.
Ascough defended her actions in a statement she released after her impeachment.
“After the books had arrived, a staff member informed me that some of the abortion information might be illegal. I sought legal advice from the Union’s solicitor, who confirmed in writing that distribution of the books was almost certainly illegal and that it would be prudent to avoid proceeding with the book, whether through redesign (if not too late) or cancellation,” she wrote.
At that point, Ascough said it was too late to change the layout. “As chief executive officer of the union,” she wrote, “I could not avoid responsibility for the distribution of the books. I did the best that I could with the information I had.”
The former student body president also used her statement to address accusations that she wasn’t living up to the union’s “pro-choice mandate.”
“I was unwilling to commit a criminal offense, risking conviction and fines for myself and anyone else involved in the distribution. Whether you agree with my decision or not, I ask you, please: place yourself in my shoes. I faced immense pressure for about a week to authorize the distribution of the books, but I did not feel comfortable doing this. I promised to respect a pro-choice mandate, but I never promised to break the law,” she wrote.
Ascough said that a university should be a “place of freedom of speech, of thought, and of association.”
“To wish to boot someone out from day one because their opinion differs from yours is not conducive to fostering a respectful and inclusive community. There must be room to respect those with different opinions,” she wrote.
Ascough never abandoned her pro-life principles throughout the entire campaign to impeach her. She ran her own campaign to fight off the impeachment. A Facebook group was created to help her cause, which gained 3,000 followers, providing a platform where she could speak directly, and unfiltered, to her supporters with updates and videos.
Amy Crean, who led the movement to remove Ascough, called the campaign “long and stressful.”
“We are delighted obviously with the turnout. We ran this on democracy, [and] student engagement,” she said in an interview with the University Observer, the school’s student newspaper.
The impeachment vote was called after a petition with some 1,200 names was submitted to the student union offices at the beginning of October. Earlier, a similar petition was put forward listing over 1,600 signatures, but it was apparently rejected over questions about its legitimacy.
The drive to dismiss the pro-life student president, however, started building its case well before then. In a September interview, once again with the University Observer, Crean suggested Ascough’s personal views were interfering with her duties.
“The issue isn’t that she holds any particular view, it’s that she’s letting it affect her position as a president,” wrote Crean.
“She is mandated to support a union that actively voted to be pro-choice. She is saying she won’t go to the pro-choice march because it’s out of hours. She denied extra funding to UCD for Choice and didn’t want to be in the tent with them and she denied vital information on basic health care access to the entire student populace. If she had kept her views to herself and not let it affect her position as the president of the union it wouldn’t be an issue. So it’s not about her personal stance. It’s that she’s letting it affect her job negatively and that’s impacting students’ welfare,” she added.
Ascough’s dismissal comes amid growing concerns over efforts to liberalize abortion in the predominantly Catholic country. The government has scheduled a referendum, to be held as early as May, to see if voters want to dismantle Ireland’s laws that protect the unborn.
In the referendum, the people of Ireland will decide if they want to see changes to the Eighth Amendment of the constitution, which is meant to uphold the right to life for unborn children. As the law currently stands, an abortion in the country can only be permitted on the condition that the life of the mother is “in danger.” Any woman who is charged and found guilty of having an illegal abortion can face imprisonment for up to 14 years. With that penalty in mind, thousands of women are said to travel abroad, every year, to have their preborn babies killed.
Ireland’s upcoming referendum on abortion is set to take place ahead of a scheduled visit to the country by Pope Francis.