“Students’ unions shouldn’t hide behind ‘legal advice’” – Kevin Keane

In light of UCDSU President Katie Ascough removing information on access to abortion pills from freshers’ handbooks, TCDSU President Kevin Keane states the importance of student movements in creating change

The law surrounding access to the abortion pill has been widely discussed in the student movement and beyond in the past week or so.

The abortion pill is a medicine that has been approved for use by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is safe and effective for use to terminate a pregnancy for up to nine weeks. Up to three women a day use the abortion pill in Ireland.

The Regulation of Information Act 1995, exists to stifle our ability to spread information about what is a vital, straightforward, and safe medicine. The act states that no group, body or individual can spread information about the abortion pill in any form whatsoever, except when a woman has explicitly asked for information in a one-on-one setting. This is an act of censorship that is unparalleled in any other area of Irish law.

Simply by saying the words “the abortion pill is available on www.womenhelp.org”, one could arguably be in breach of the law.

This is censorship at its worst, and is not a state of affairs that the student movement should be at peace with. Since Ivana Bacik defiantly shared abortion information in the late 1980s, and went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights to defend her right to do so, the student movement has proudly and without equivocation pushed the boundaries of the law to vindicate the reproductive rights of our students before, and there is no reason that it shouldn’t do so again. Bacik was threatened with a prison sentence for persisting with her work, and hers is an example that we should all draw inspiration from.

A reprehensible, discriminatory piece of law like the Regulation of Information Act should be condemned by student leaders and progressively-minded people out of hand. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) will not cower behind the curtain of “legal advice” – it is our assertion that this is a law that should not exist, that our students have the right to medical care, and that it is our duty to assist them in accessing that care, should they want it.

The eighth amendment to the Constitution of Ireland is a disgraceful breach of our students’ human rights – it restricts access to basic medical care, it creates second class citizens in this country, and it consigns those who wish to avail of medical care to exile abroad, or criminal charges at home. It is a disgusting piece of law, and I’m counting the days until its repeal.

This prohibition on the abortion pill is similarly reprehensible. It demonstrates the attitude of our lawmakers that persists to this day. I’m not aware of any other part of of Irish life where our laws censor us so completely and with such consequential effect. For a law to attempt to shackle mere discussion of a medical procedure, is an indictment of the Irish legislature. This can in no way be said to be the will of the people – even the eighth amendment, in all its rights-abusing ignominy, never envisaged the far-reaching gagging of all discourse and debate that the ban on abortion pill information represents.

I don’t want to live in an Ireland where we criminalise people for sharing important information with those who need it. I don’t want to live in an Ireland where simply sharing the link to a website is illegal. I certainly don’t want to live in an Ireland where we allow this situation to continue unchecked. It is, and has always been, the student movement’s job to challenge the law where it is unjust, and there is no better example than this.

Pro-choice mandates exist in students’ unions around the country. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), through their #StudentsForChoice campaign, have led the country in abortion rights campaigning. Access to the abortion pill is a pro-choice position. Any union that fails to fully honour that mandate is letting their students down, and are in direct dereliction of their duties as leaders of the student movement. It is sometimes necessary to stick your head above the parapet in order to make a difference – it is my belief that this is the role of a student leader.

When the students have spoken clearly, repeatedly, and loudly on an issue as central and fundamental as choice in abortion, no union officer should stand in its way. Any officer who does so brings their union into disrepute, and betrays the student movement as a whole. We should not accept it.

It is TCDSU’s stated aim, as well as my own, to campaign for the repeal of the eighth amendment of the constitution. Our constitution has no place for restrictions on the reproductive rights of half the people in Ireland. That remains our number one priority – we have a whole week of events and pro-choice activists in College throughout the course of Empowerment Week.

The USI, along with every pro-choice students’ union in Ireland, under the banner of #StudentsForChoice, will gather in Front Square at 12:30pm on Saturday for the March for Choice. We have plans in place for a reflective day of action to honour the fifth anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s death on October 26. TCDSU is clear – we want the eighth amendment repealed, and full bodily autonomy made available to every person in Ireland. The prohibition of abortion pills in Ireland is an aspect of that fight, and one that this SU will not shy away from.