Anti-abortion UCD students’ union president says she has been subject of ‘bullying campaign’

Katie Ascough says group of students have been determined to impeach her

 

The president of UCD students’ union says she has been the subject of a “bullying campaign” by a group of students who are determined to remove her from office.

Katie Ascough, who is anti-abortion, is facing an impeachment referendum later this month following controversy over her decision to withdraw detailed information over access to abortion services in a student magazine.

Ms Ascough said she was alarmed by the “bullying tactics of a group of students to try and discard a democratically-elected” student union president.

“Some members of the ‘Impeach UCDSU President’ campaign posted pro-impeachment tweets and Facebook posts on the day of my election back in March, before I had the chance to make even one presidential action or decision,” she said, in a statement.

“It was clear from the outset that some students didn’t want to give me a chance as student union president because of my views on abortion.”

The impeachment referendum - which was triggered by a petition signed by 1,200 UCD students - is due to be held on October 25th and 26th,

A minimum of 10 per cent of registered union members - at least 2,000 - is required to vote for a valid poll.

A majority vote in favour of the motion will be required for the impeachment process to be triggered.

In an open letter to students as part of her “Fight4Katie” campaign, she defended her anti-abortion stance, and said her decision to reprint the magazine followed legal advice.

“It is no secret that I am pro-life and many students are not. Since the day I was elected, before I’d been put in office, some students were already calling for my impeachment,” she said.

“However, I did not run for election on a pro-life platform. I ran on a manifesto of student welfare, reducing fees, microwaves, bridging the gap between students and their union, and lots more.”

The information that was removed from Winging It - a fresher’s magazine - included the prices of abortion during different gestation periods in other countries, and a paragraph relating to how to obtain an abortion pill to use in Ireland.

While it is lawful to provide information in Ireland about abortions abroad, it is subject to strict conditions.

For example, detailed information about abortion abroad may only be made available by doctors, specific agencies or by individual counsellors.

The decision to remove the information, which required reprinting the annual guide, is estimated to have cost the union between €7,000 and €8,000.

Ms Acough said when the abortion information was brought to her attention by a staff member, she sought legal advice from the union’s lawyer.

Four sabbatical officers in the union have criticised her decision to reprint the annual guide, and say they were not shown the relevant legal advice.

On Thursday, Ms Acough published the legal advice in which she was warned that each person involved in the decision to publish the information or distribute the books was at risk of up to €4,000 in fines each and a personal criminal conviction.

“Therefore, the maximum possible fine to the union was tens of thousands of euro, as well as the risk of personal criminal convictions for up to two dozen people. As CEO of the company, this was not something I was able to stand over, and so I decided to follow the legal advice offered by the union’s lawyer,” she said.

Ms Acough said she asked the union’s board of directors for advice, and they agreed with her decision to follow legal opinion.

“As CEO of the company, I decided to follow the advice of the union’s lawyer with the union board’s agreement,” she said.

“The main reason that a group of students are calling for my impeachment is because of my decision to not break the law and illegally distribute abortion information.”

She also said while abortion information which had legal implications was removed from the magazine, it was replaced with “contact details for agencies where the same abortion information could be sought in a solicited, legal way.”