The Yes 4 Neutral side in the recent campus referendum on abortion submitted several complaints over “inaccurate” information put out by the UCD Students’ Union during the campaign.
The Yes 4 Neutral side, who advocated for the Students’ Union to adopt a neutral stance on abortion lodged an official complaint after the referendum over a Facebook post from the SU saying claims made by ‘Neutral’ campaign were “completely false”.
The SU Facebook post was in reference to claims made by a Yes4Neutral representative at the L&H debate the week before the referendum. The speaker claimed the current SU policy position on abortion included “legalising abortion up to the day before birth”.
The Students’ Union in response put out a statement on social media stating this was “completely false”.
Following this the Yes4Neutral side made complaints to the referendum Returning Officer and the SU President Conor Viscardi. The ‘Neutral’ camp claimed that the result of the previous 2013 preferendum saw the Union adopt a stance to campaign for “abortion at the request of the woman”.
A spokesperson from the Yes4Neutral campaign spoke to the Tribune to explain that the SU “have not declared any [term] limits they wish to see. As such, it is not “completely false” to say that the SU supports abortion up to the day before birth”.
The Students’ Union has no current policy on term limits or specific restrictions that would apply in the case of the 8th Amendment, which bans abortion, being removed from the Irish Constitution.
The Yes4Neutral team “asked for the post to be taken down and that the SU send an email circular to all students clarifying the Union position and publicly apologising to the Yes4Neutral Campaign”.
The Students’ Union as a result took down the Facebook post that said the Yes4Neutral’s argument was “completed false” the night before voting commenced. The SU also sent out an email outlining the SU’s current position on abortion as a result of the 2013 preferendum to students.
On November 1st, two days before voting began the Yes4Neutral group lodged a complaint to the Independent Appeals and Disciplinary Board (IADB) of the SU.
The result of the appeal found that “integrity of the referendum had not been compromised” as a result of the Facebook post a spokesperson from the SU confirmed. The vote saw the pro-choice ‘No’ side win by 64%.
The SU executive as a body is constitutionally required to remain unbiased during campus referenda.
During the appeal hearing process the “Union recognised that the post was inaccurate and that it should not have been posted” a source involved in the Yes4Neutral campaign claimed.
The IADB concluded that despite the Facebook post the referendum was still valid and had not been compromised, but that better guidelines should be put in place regarding the use of SU social media accounts during elections.
However, the Yes4Neutral group, and original Students for Fair Representation group have stated they “deemed this verdict as unsatisfactory”.
Following the unsuccessful appeal, they have launched a second appeal specifically against the individual in question who wrote the Facebook post for “misuse of Union Resources and the breach of Referendum Rules”. This individual’s identity was not publicly named as the appeals process is confidential.
The UCD Students for Fair Representation group maintain that the actions of the SU representative “were biased against more than one-third of its members who voted for and campaigned for fair representation on campus”.
So, was the Yes4Neutral’s claim that the current SU position advocates for abortion up to the day of birth true?
In the 2013 preferendum on the SU’s abortion position, 45% of students voted for “abortion at the request of the woman”. 28% voted for abortion only in cases where the mother’s life was at risk, 8% voted for a pro-life stance, and 19% said the Union should be neutral on the issue.
Following the recent referendum 64% of students voted to keep the Union’s pro-choice “at the request of the woman” stance.
But does “at the request of the woman” equate to abortion up to a day before birth?
The Journal.ie ran a fact check on similar claims, which found many European countries allowed for late term abortion for issues like projecting the life of the woman, or fatal foetal abnormality – but none allow for late-term (after 6 months) abortions “for any reason”, such as the request of the woman.
Several US states (Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont) and some countries Canada, China, Vietnam do allow for late-term abortions “for any reason”.
Most Western-European countries allow for abortion at the request of the women up to 12 weeks (3 months) of pregnancy. The UK (excluding Northern Ireland) and the Netherlands permit abortion at the women’s request at up to 24 weeks (6 months).
In Ireland it is unlikely in the case of the 8th amendment being repealed by a referendum, that Ireland would then go from one of the most restrictive legislative abortion regimes to one of the most liberal in the world.
The 8th Amendment would either be replaced with a less restrictive clause within the constitution, for example one that allowed for abortion in the case of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormalities.
55% of Irish people supported this “limited abortion stance” in an Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI poll released on October 7th 2016. And just 19% said they would prefer a UK style regime.
Alternatively, the “protection of the life of the unborn” might be removed from the constitution and not replaced, and instead regulations on abortion would be legislated for through the Dáil. In the Dáil the Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit are the only parties who advocate openly for a liberal ‘free, safe, legal’ regime similar to the UK.
Even centre-left parties such as Labour, the Social Democrats, and the Greens do not advocate for abortion on demand. So it would be highly unlikely that the Dáil would vote to bring in abortion at the request of the women up to the day before birth.
Arguing for abortion at the “request of the woman” then in a European comparative political context should be understood broadly as allowed up to between 3 and 6 months. Ireland’s policy on abortion has been historically conservative. So it is highly likely in any situation where abortion was allowed at the request of the mother it would only be permitted up to 3 months.
The Students’ Union have no set policy stance on any restrictions such as specific term limits that they would affirmatively support in the case of abortion at the request of the women. But their “at the women’s request” policy stance should be understood in the wider political policy climate of European and international abortion regimes, which in most cases states abortion on request be allowed at up to 3 months.
Verdict: On balance and considering comparative political abortion regimes, the ‘Yes4Neutral’ side’s argument that the SU’s current “at the request of the woman” position would mean abortion up to the day of birth following a repeal of the 8th, is FALSE.
However, the complaints from the Yes4Neutral side have some merit as the SU don’t have any affirmative position on specific term-limits. The lack of clarity could allow people to interpret the SU’s stance as allowing abortion up to the day before birth. In that sense the SU’s Facebook post describing the Yes4Neutral’s claims as “completely false” was inaccurate.
Jack Power | Editor