Don’t mandate the SU to campaign for choice

Emily Murtagh


After a long week of having fliers stuck in our faces and having our Facebook pages bombarded with all the usual Election Week craziness, it is important to make sure that this crucial issue does not get lost in the crowd. This week we will be asked to vote either yes or no to the question, “Should the Students’ Union adopt the long term policy to advocate for legislation for abortion to be upon request of the woman?” It is imperative that we first remember that any discussion related to the abortion question must always be treated with the love and respect that so sensitive an issue warrants. It transcends politics and unions and online debates, because it relates to real people and their real experiences and let us never forget that. From this position we urge you to realise that this referendum cannot be seen solely, or even primarily, as a pro-life/pro-choice issue.

We must instead view it also in terms of the Students’ Union and the legitimacy of its claims to represent all students on campus. We believe that each student has the responsibility to educate his or herself fully on the issue and the right to advocate on behalf of any position or none within the debate as they see fit.  We believe that for the Students’ Union to take adopting such a definitive policy on an issue that relates so powerfully to the individual’s right to hold a moral, religious or political stance, will leave many members of our college community feeling alienated from the union that purports to represent all students in our university. We believe especially in the celebration and protection of minority voices. We believe that the Students’ Union’s priorities should lie elsewhere, in working on issues that stand to unite us as a student community rather than something that divides us. We believe it is neither necessary nor appropriate for the Students’ Union to adopt a policy in this debate.

The foundation of the university is the fostering of independent thought and enquiry. From our first day as wide-eyed Freshers we have been learning and growing in the dialectic created between our own personal convictions and the ideas of our fellow students, as well as those presented to us as part of our academic study. We are constantly being enriched by a wide and exciting range of ideas and must then filter them through our own personal belief system. For the Students’ Union to take such a definitive stance on the issue seems not to promote this idea. We do not require our Students’ Union to act on our behalf on issues that do not represent all students and in fact stand in direct opposition to the moral convictions of some, which should be respected and celebrated.

Instead, we realise that each of us has the right to campaign on either side as we see fit, to organize ourselves and protest peacefully for whatever position of powers of independent thought and enquiry lead us to pursue. The Students’ Union should be an inclusive institution that is representative of all students on campus – as far as it can possibly be obtained.

Trinity College prides itself on diversity, and its policies show a clear desire to make students from all moral, cultural or religious backgrounds feel at home within our college community. Our strategic plan stresses our commitment to promoting Trinity as a place of study that seeks to encourage students from what they refer to as “non-traditional backgrounds”. This includes amongst others – members of the Travelling community, and those belonging to Ethnic minorities, from as diverse a range of backgrounds as Pentecostal Christians from Nigeria to Iranian Muslims. To put an issue of such great moral weight for so many people to a referendum, when we believe it to be unnecessary, defies all notions of protecting and celebrating the various minorities that choose to study here. We hope that all Trinity students, regardless of their own personal views on abortion, will vote to protect individuals and allow each student to pursue what they believe to be right, without anyone feeling alienated by their Students’ Union, or feeling that their Students’ Union far from represents them.

We firmly believe that the Students’ Union’s priority should lie with issues that unite us as a student community rather than with ones such as this, that is so divisive and a matter of personal conscience and conviction. The Students’ Union has hugely important work to be doing; from lobbying against third level funding cuts to constantly improving the day-to-day running of our university – campaigns we can all get behind. Let us look also at the immediate impact we can make in terms of working to end the stigmatisation of young mothers as well as promoting responsible relationships – showing love and care to all members of our college community. This is not to say that the Students’ Union should steer away from the important political issues of our generation on a national level. Instead we believe that the Students’ Union would be much better off using its power to open up the platform for debate, encouraging a student body that responds positively and peacefully to issues that are of great importance in our society as each individual sees fit.

From campaigning over this last week, we saw a wide range of reasons why people were planning to vote no. For some it related to their personal deep felt conviction to a pro-life stance and a commitment to loving and valuing all human beings. For others it related to a general feeling of disenchantment towards the SU and its process of arriving at the policies it puts forward.  For some, the question is too vague and open to too many interpretations within the abortion debate. For others still, they questioned if this question is tied to the liberal agenda to the extent that it could be interpreted as tied to a political ideology, something the SU policies must be free from. For many, the response was a rather exasperated –“but… Why does the SU need to take a stance on the issue?”

We feel that the campaign was worthwhile when we saw the smiles of some students when they realised that someone was willing to stand up for something that they too felt was wrong, though they perhaps felt they didn’t have the voice, the time or the confidence to do it themselves. It was worth it for the encouraging messages from students who wished that all students feel truly represented by our Students’ Union.  Our student population is made up of a wonderfully diverse, interesting, and intelligent set of individuals that demonstrate a huge spectrum of moral, political and religious viewpoints and we do not need to be put in a box by the Union that aims to represent all students. That is why we say – respect all views, vote no.