When we look back at the last few weeks in Ireland, I sincerely hope that it’ll be with incredulity more than anything. Everything from George Hook’s comments to Tim Jackson’s hunger strike to the removal of information regarding abortion from a student handbook by the SU president has filled me with both anger and disappointment. The last few weeks have been in my view, damaging to everyone but particularly women and pregnant people. I want to use this space to reflect and ask, what’s next?

Of course, I respect the fact that Tim Jackson and our SU president Katie Ascough are entitled to their views because we all are. I do not envy the position that Katie is in. However, I cannot stomach the fact that vital information was removed from an SU publication which has previously published the information anyway. As Ivana Bacik wrote in The University Times this week, “No students’ union has been prosecuted for any breach of the 1995 Act as a result [of promoting abortion].“

Many, many students have suffered at the hands of the 8th amendment. Last year when the referendum for neutrality was bearing down on us, a referendum which Katie Ascough, amongst others pushed for, I wrote in the University Observer that in 2015 1,109 people aged between 18-24 procured an abortion outside Ireland. That age group is mostly made up by students and so to say that people aren’t looking for this information is an outright lie. When your student population is made up of approximately 30,000 people, the chances that someone will need that advice are quite high indeed. To deny them that information in my view is completely irresponsible.

Everything that has happened in the last few weeks has reinforced my view that we cannot stop fighting for our rights. Just this week, Tim Jackson, who ran as an independent candidate for Donegal in the 2016 general election has been on hunger strike to protest abortion. Let me put that into perspective for you. A man is starving himself to protest against the possibility that the 8th amendment might be removed. Abortion is still very much illegal in this country and yet here we have a man willing to ‘starve’ himself to deny pregnant people their bodily autonomy. (I say ‘starve’ because he won’t let it get it death which sort of defeats the point of a hunger strike in my eyes).

Neutrality doesn’t get us anywhere. I said this last year during the referendum and I will continue to say it. Our students union is a pro-choice students union. It is the job of the student’s union to represent the students. UCD students made their views heard last year and those views should be respected and represented. According to the UCDSU Constitution the president is ‘responsible for the strategic development and direction of the union’. I don’t want to see my union go backwards.

On the topic of the Constitution of the UCSU, another interesting aspect of it is that it is the president who is ‘ultimately responsible for the financial affairs of the Union’. Given that the reprint of Winging It cost €7,000 according to the University Times, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask where that money is going to come from. The SU only emerged from debt last year. Do they have the reserves to pay this large bill? Does this reprint classify as mismanagement of funds given that €7,000 could be better spent on this such as our overwhelmed mental health services? In my view, the students deserve answers to all these questions.

 Now is the time to rise up and fight. We know that Katie Ascough will not be at the March for Choice on September 30th. She is not obliged to go as it is outside her contract hours and to be honest, I think that’s ok. Instead we should be rallying behind people like UCD for Choice and our C&C officer Barry Murphy, both of whom have done a pretty good job of promoting the march and galvanising students.

We have a duty to ourselves and to the people who don’t have a voice who need these services to march on behalf of them, to keep fighting for them. It’s the job of those with a voice to campaign for those who do not. Pregnant people in direct provision, pregnant people who cannot afford to travel, pregnant people without a passport. We must keep going for them and for us. We cannot stop, we won’t stop.

Every time someone tries to stop us, be it through misinformation, bad science, or by simply removing the information, we must shout that little bit louder. We must hold our signs up higher and we must campaign that bit harder. We must never take anything for granted because as seen in the US in the last few months, rights can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Backwards is not an option. To quote a tweet I saw from Ryan Oakes of UCD for Choice during this very long and hard week ‘If you all could see how much the news has galvanised us here in UCD you’d realise sometimes a step back is needed before a leap forward.’ Here, here Ryan.

Rachel O’Neill – Editor