Be wary of a culture where only one voice is heard

Calling for freedom of speech through the eyes and experiences of a pro-life student in Trinity


I am woman. I am feminist. I am pro-life. To many my identities are contradictory but I have come to hold my pro-life views following much careful contemplation. I have looked to both sides of the debate, and this is my view from where I stand.

I sit in the midst of black REPEAL jumpers and listen quietly to my friends’ pro-choice views. I say nothing not because I am ill-informed on the issue but because of the intolerance my friends express in front of me, damning all those with a pro-life stance. This is not a diatribe against the opposing side, but simply a call for a more open discourse. I want to talk. I feel like my silence is both too much, and not enough. I feel that I cannot speak my opinion, and I am ashamed of my silence on an issue that is so important.

My college friends don’t know that I am pro-life and impose pro-choice views upon me that I do not hold and have never expressed. They assume I must agree with the popular consensus because I am a student and a feminist but fail to realise that it is possible to identify as both feminist and pro-life. I am not insensitive or ignorant when it comes to the issue of abortion. I know this is not a black and white issue. I know that there is a whole spectrum of grey. I have met people who lean towards being pro-life to an extent, but in being exposed to wider discourse still find the grey areas hard to fully align with what they think. I want this wider discourse to be more readily available on campus.

There was a Trinity News article recently about some students seeking to resign from Trinity’s Students Union as the SU’s pro-choice mandate does not represent their views. The reaction I heard on campus in the aftermath towards these student’s engagement of their right to free speech was not the liberalism that such liberals here claim to profess. By my understanding, liberalism is an openness to different ways of thinking. I feel that here, it is some of the same liberals who are the least tolerant of taking into consideration an opposing viewpoint.  I do not want to impose my stance upon others, but I would simply like to express it in an environment where I feel that I will not be ostracised for holding such a view. We live in a culture today whereby there is much talk of safe spaces, but where is my safe space? I believe I should be afforded the respect to air my views in an intellectual capacity but Trinity is not a safe space for a pro-life student.

A campus of Thought Police

Intellectual curiosity and debate about current and sensitive issues such as abortion should be allowed and respected, but in reality, a fair debate does not exist because a fair debate is not allowed to exist. It has become a monologue censored by pro-choice activists. Dare you let on that you have a different opinion than the person in the REPEAL jumper?

I believe in a world where people can fundamentally disagree on a matter and yet still be civil to one another. My pro-choice friends are strongly voiced, and I celebrate their freedom of speech and their right to express their views, but my voice is not afforded the same respect to disagree with theirs. Opinion is not infallible.

I recognise that the REPEAL campaign in Trinity comes from a heart of compassion yet at the same time, it represses all those who disagree. I am as compassionate as those in the REPEAL jumpers, but I come from the other side. I understand that no one believes themselves to be unreasonable or irrational, but when two such differing sides come into contact, it is herein that lies the fear that what may begin as discussion amongst equals will descend into argument that builds more barriers than tries to work through them.

The disdain that I witness from my pro-choice friends in their talk of people like me is quite alienating. I can’t understand the inability to enter into a fair, balanced, objective discourse with me. I have heard people tell me what I am, that as a pro-life student I want control over their wombs. I have heard my friends make character assassinations of those vocally pro-life students on campus telling me that they are old-fashioned, anti-feminist and misogynists. I am a student who is pro-life. I am not old fashioned. I am not anti-feminist, and I am not a misogynist

SU mandate has limited free speech

Good debate should unsettle you. It should seek to challenge your beliefs in search of a truth. A debate on such a complex issue as this should be a fair, equal debate but I have yet to hear it debated openly and equally on campus. I have not heard it in the GMB or on the benches of the arts block, or the steps of the Pav, or outside the Berkeley library because Trinity College is not a place where healthy argument and free speech is possible if you are a pro-life student.

Some pro-choice students police the rhetoric around the abortion debate on campus, backed by the SU’s mandate, limiting real and informative discourse. TCD Students’ Union are actively campaigning for a “full repeal” of the 8th amendment based on a vote by students. The vote was held in February 2014, and the SU report that “a large majority [73%] voted in favour for it”.

In actuality, what happened was that only 24% of Trinity students voted at all, approximately 18% in favour and 6% against the pro-choice mandate. Apart from the 18% who voted in favour, TCDSU are actively campaigning on behalf of 76% of the student body who did not vote on the issue. TCDSU’s stance is simply helping to promote this one-sided debate, making college a hostile environment for me, a pro-life student.

Hiding in plain sight

I am not alone in hiding my views. It has been a slow means of trying to gauge the opinion of others so as to figure out if we are on the same boat, simply to have someone with whom I can safely discuss how I feel on this very controversial issue without feeling that I have to shut myself down. I know that some friends of mine will not accept me if I tell them who I am and what I believe. I feel I have to come out in a way. That scares me.

I would like not to care so much of what others may think of me and my thoughts, but I know that in this environment, my views would be greeted with unmanageable hostility. I am not strong enough to withstand this hostility and coldness that would inevitably follow and so for the sake of a peaceful existence in college, I remain undercover.  Although I am undercover, I have a small network of other pro-life students on campus, with whom I can discuss this issue. Others are firmly on the fence, able to relate to both sides of the argument, unable to make a decision.

Some who have spoken out on their pro-life stance feel haunted by the after-effects. The way they were treated for expressing their view was deeply unsettling. Online trollers, rather than engaging in the debate, shut them down at the outset and when brought up in conversation, these students were dismissed as having an invalid view. The condemnation they endured in expressing their views left some feeling that they were not respected as young, liberal, feminist students. It resulted in some students losing friends, and in other cases has led to these students retreating from the debate, choosing not to admit to their stance in public anymore. The fear of losing their credibility and respect as a young professional was all too real.

I would like to point out that students holding those views are not aliens, and although we are a minority, there are enough of us to confirm that we are not unreasonable in holding this view. The pro-life camp is real, it exists, we have numbers, and we have valid arguments to make. If you do not agree with it, that is fine, we can agree to differ. People differ in their opinions everyday, that is the nature of a democratic and liberal society. But we must be allowed to make our points without fear of being ostracised.

Where is the University platform?

Universities should never have the answer, they should simply provide the platform for intellectual debate. If you are a pro-choice student in Trinity College who has not been challenged on your views by another student, you really should question the bubble you are in. Similarly, how are my views as a pro-life student to be challenged if there is not a forum wherein I feel I can discuss them?

There are more like me. I am not an I. I am a We. We are not what you expect, we are involved in many aspects of college life and hear the one sided abortion monologue on a daily basis. We are sitting in class next to you. Even now, in writing this, we feel we have to be discreet. We have moved away from our peers to go behind closed doors, somewhere where we will not be overheard as we feel that the way things are now, those who overhear us will not be accepting. We have spent a long time piecing these words together, moderating ourselves, not wanting to seem unreasonable. We still choose to publish this anonymously.

We do not want to force our beliefs on anyone, but to engage in a more open, positive, and holistic debate. We feel we cannot participate in the monologue heard on campus at the moment. We are wary of a culture where only one voice is heard.