NRL News

Pro-life Irish Student Union President Impeached

by | Oct 30, 2017

“To convict someone of the crime of refusing to commit a crime is a dangerous precedent”

By Dave Andrusko

Katie Ascough and a fellow student at a pro-life vigil. (Photo appeared in the Irish Examiner.)

Katie Ascough and a fellow student at a pro-life vigil. (Photo appeared in the Irish Examiner.)

Even 3,500 miles away, you could see this one coming. Last Thursday, 69% of the 6,600 students who cast a ballot did so in favor of ousting pro-life Katie Ascough as President of the students at University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU).

As The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) reported mid-month, the impeachment referendum began with a petition signed by 1,200 students. They were protesting Ms. Ascough’s decision to remove illegal abortion information from a pamphlet given to new students. Ascough’s pro-life credentials were well known when she ran for the office.

During the preparation for last Thursday referendum vote and in a full subsequent explanation Ascough gave that appeared in the Irish Examiner, she repeatedly made the point she had not turned her back on her promise to “respect the pro-choice mandate of the union.”

But what happened put her in an impossible position. What’s called the ‘Winging It’ magazine, which is given to all new students, carried information that (according to SPUC) “included the prices of abortion in other countries and information on abortion pills, including a promotion for Women on the Web. Providing information on abortion overseas is strictly regulated in Ireland, under the Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act, 1995.”

Ascough wrote, “After the books had arrived, a staff member informed me that some of the abortion information might be illegal. I sought legal advice from the Union’s solicitor, who confirmed in writing that distribution of the books was almost certainly illegal and that it would be prudent to avoid proceeding with the book, whether through redesign (if not too late) or cancellation.” It was too late.

What to do? She writes that as chief executive officer of the union

I was unwilling to commit a criminal offence, risking conviction and fines for myself and anyone else involved in the distribution. Whether you agree with my decision or not, I ask you, please: place yourself in my shoes. I faced immense pressure for about a week to authorise the distribution of the books, but I did not feel comfortable doing this. I promised to respect a pro-choice mandate; but I never promised to break the law.

Two concluding thoughts. First, as is almost always the case, the allegations against Ascough grossly distorted what she’d actually did.

“Book burning” allegations floated about, done so because she was pro-life. In fact,

The abortion information was illegal because it was unsolicited. What changed was that two sections were replaced with the phone numbers and websites for agencies, including our own SU [Student Union] welfare office, from which the exact same abortion information could be obtained in a legal, solicited way.

The idea that this was some sort of pro-life censorship is unfounded and, quite frankly, a bit absurd.

But that was enough to get the impeachment bandwagon rolling.

Second, reflecting on what had transpired, Ascough talked about academic freedom, freedom to debate, and freedom to learn from different perspectives.

Universities should be a place of freedom of speech, of thought, and of association.

To wish to boot someone out from day one because their opinion differs from yours is not conducive to fostering a respectful and inclusive community. There must be room to respect those with different opinions.

This is critical to true debate and intellectual freedom. Although I believe my impeachment is a regressive step – to convict someone of the crime of refusing to commit a crime is a dangerous precedent – I hope that the light it has shone on the intolerance of some may allow us to build better campus communities, where tolerance, inclusivity and fairness are truly valued.”

Categories: Pro-Lifers