Students threaten to leave SU over abortion issue

Catherine Healy

News Editor

A spokesperson for a group campaigning in this week’s abortion referendum has claimed that the SU could face an “exodus of students” if it adopts a long-term pro-choice policy. Gavin Rothwell told Trinity News that the union is likely to face a costly legal battle over student disaffiliation if it is mandated to campaign for legislation for abortion to be on request of the woman.

It is understood that at least five students have expressed their intention to seek to leave the union if the referendum is passed.

David Briar, one such student, told Trinity News that, “Should the SU choose to support one side over the other, they will be significantly misrepresenting a sizeable minority of their electorate, myself included. The choice, then, is ours – be misrepresented or leave.”

Adam Hobson, another student who intends to disaffiliate if the referendum is passed, said that, “Remaining in a union which will advocate in my name, as a student of the University of Dublin, for abortion upon request isn’t logical. I don’t support abortion on demand; therefore I don’t want an association that I am a member of to advocate for abortion on my behalf.”

Student Karen Jeffery also told Trinity News that, “If this referendum is passed, I would not feel comfortable promoting or even belonging to a union that supported something I feel strongly against. To completely stand for my beliefs, leaving the SU would be the only option.”

Trinity News understands that Gavin Rothwell and Emily Murtagh, the student who wrote an open letter to the provost last week outlining her opposition to a long-term pro-choice policy, will both also seek to leave the union if the referendum is passed.

In a statement issued on behalf of all members of the campaign team, Rothwell said, “We on the No campaign feel that the SU can be united in diversity, by respecting the views of all students. The passing of this referendum would bring about the real threat of people leaving the union on the precept that they no longer feel they are being represented by the SU. Trinity has a commitment to diversity and constantly seeks to attract students from a wide variety of cultural, religious and political backgrounds, from both Ireland and across the world. Trinity talks about its desire to be a welcoming environment for students from “non-traditional backgrounds”, but how alienating would it be for someone coming from a minority group or what Trinity refers to as a ‘non-traditional background’ which advocates a particular moral stance on this issue as something that is central to their worldview to find that the union that claims to be representing them is actively advocating a position that goes against this?”

However, there is uncertainty as to whether students will be legally permitted to disaffiliate from the SU. Trinity News understands that College regulation is clear enough to require all students to have SU representation.

In December, a UCD student who threatened to disaffiliate from UCD’s SU after their abortion referendum was initially prevented from doing so by the union’s constitution. The union’s appeal board subsequently gave him the right to leave the union.

Image via Emily Murtagh

Catherine Healy

Editor of Trinity News. Interested in politics, history and all forms of media.