UCDSU president defends dropping abortion information from freshers’ guide

Student Union president Katie Ascough says decision was made on legal grounds

In November 2016, the union voted decisively, with 64 per cent of voters in UCDSU supported retaining the union’s pro-choice stance. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

In November 2016, the union voted decisively, with 64 per cent of voters in UCDSU supported retaining the union’s pro-choice stance. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The president of UCD students’ union has defended her decision to withdraw information over access to abortion services in a magazine circulated to new students.

Katie Ascough, president of the union and who has campaigned against abortion, said she took an “executive decision” to redact the information after receiving legal advice that it was illegal.

The information in the Winging It magazine that was removed included two women’s help websites, 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.

A breach of the Abortion Information Act of 1995 is an offence under law and can result in fines of up to €1,900.

The decision to remove the page, which required reprinting the annual guide, is estimated to have cost the union about €8,000.

In a statement, Ms Ascough said when the legal issue was brought to her attention by a staff member, she discussed with all officers in the union and sought legal advice.

One of the officers, she said, raised concerns over the implications over the issue of legality for personal liability and possible ramifications such as obtaining a visa to the US.

“In my position as president and ultimate spokesperson, I then took the executive decision to redact the information,” she said.

Ms Ascough, who pledged in her campaign to be president to respect the union’s mandate to campaign for a pro-choice abortion regime, said the decision was “not a personal moral issue but a legal one.”

“Since elected, I have been carrying out my duties as president in keeping with the constitution which clearly states I am responsible for the administration of the union,” she said.

“In line with legal advise from the union’s long-standing lawyer, and with agreement from the board of directors to follow that legal advice, it would have been highly imprudent of me to put the union and individuals at risk by facilitating the distribution of this illegal information.”

Ms Ascough said the union regretted the cost involved and said it will work to find areas where it can make up such losses.

“I will continue to delegate as required but stand firm that this issue was not in the realms of my delegating an abortion issue, but was my stepping up and leading as the president to ensure we are not putting ourselves and students at risk,” she said.

“I hope students are seeing the wider picture of the work we have commenced on their behalf and intend to continue to drive in their interest.”

According to the University Observer, which first reported the story, four sabbatical officers in the union have criticised her decision to reprint the annual guide.

In November 2016, the union voted by a margin of 64 per cent to retain the union's pro-chouce stance.

Ms Ascough was elected last March and pledged to “facilitate” the union’s stance pro-choice position.

Ms Ascough is the daughter of Tom Ascough, who - at the time of her election - sat on the board of directors of the Iona Institute.