With the long-awaited referendum on the 8th Amendment scheduled for May or June of 2018, Irish third level institutions are now, more than ever, making their stance on the highly contentious issue well known.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have firmly placed themselves in the pro-choice camp. On Saturday 30th September, the USI “Students at March for Choice” campaign took to the street of Dublin to take part in the annual pro-choice march, alongside tens of thousands of other supporters looking to repeal the 8th amendment.
Many third level institutions in Ireland have opted for a pro-choice stance on abortion.
Maynooth University’s Students Union (MSU) President Leon Diop said that two-thirds of their students voted to be pro-choice in a referendum on the debate.
“Maynooth Students Union is campaigning to Repeal the 8th Amendment, following on from our mandate given to us by the students we represent,” Mr Diop says.
“There was a referendum on campus to take a stance and the students voted two-thirds majority for MSU to take the stance of pro-choice.”
The President of Waterford IT’s Students Union (WITSU), Michael Murphy, said that the students of Waterford IT voted to be pro-choice.
“WITSU is pro-choice because we were mandated by our class reps to be Pro-Choice and to lobby for a Repeal of the 8th Amendment,” says Mr Murphy.
“WITSU believes [the] women of Ireland deserve bodily autonomy and [are protesting] that, currently, Irish women do not have that basic human right. We need to stop forcing our women abroad and care for their needs within our state,” Mr Murphy said.
The President of NUI Galway’s Students Union (NUIGSU), Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh, says that they’re pro-choice as a result of two referendums.
“NUI Galway Students Union has adopted a pro-choice position in support of the national campaign for full reproductive rights, which includes a woman’s right to abortion, whether elective or medically necessary,” Ó Maoileannaigh confirms.
“This was reaffirmed in 2014 after another referendum was held on whether to remain neutral on the issue or keep the pro-choice mandate and the pro-choice mandate was kept.
“This means that we campaign for a full repeal of the 8th Amendment, which encompasses not just access to abortion, but a pregnant person’s right to give medical consent throughout pregnancy,” says Mr Ó Maoileannaigh.
Niall Behan, president of DCU’s Student’s Union, said that 84% of DCU’s students voted in a referendum in 2016 in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment.
“We have had two referendums on the topic, we are pro-choice. The last one we had was in 2016 and there was 84% of students for pro-choice and, because of that, we are mandated to be pro-choice,” says Mr Behan.
A document given by the USI to the Citizens Assembly on 5th of March 2017 shows that several other colleges in Dublin are pro-choice also.
These include Trinity College Dublin with a 73% vote to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the Institute of Art and Design Dun Laoghaire (IADT) who have both opted for a pro-choice stance.
DIT or IT Tallaght have yet to hold a referendum on the topic. Representatives for DIT Student’s Union did not respond to requests for comments on the issue prior to publication.
The Irish Times reports also that UCD’s Students Union have a mandate to hold a pro-choice position on the topic of abortion. UCD SU president, Katie Anscough, could not be reached for comment.
Timeline of Irish abortion referendum
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has given a proposed timeline of May or June 2018 to hold a nationwide referendum on the 8th Amendment.
Commenting on this, MSU’s President Leon Diop says that he does not see the timeline as affecting the students as he said that when the marriage referendum was called in May 2015, students still made the effort to vote.
“I think no matter when the Taoiseach calls the referendum, that students will still make their voices heard,” Mr Diop said.
“I remember during the marriage referendum, which was called in the middle of our exams, Maynooth students still carpooled, travelled home or used postal voting to make sure the student voice was heard loud and clear.
“I have no doubt that the students of Maynooth will go out again and ensure that they have their say.”
WITSU’s President Michael Murphy says that although the timeline is not ‘ideal’ for students, he still believes that students will get out and vote.
“The date chosen by the Taoiseach, while it’s not ideal for students, I still feel it will not be a big enough hindrance for it to affect student turn out because of the enormity of the topic,” says Mr Murphy.
NUI Galway’s Students Union President, Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh, says that May or June is not ideal due to students not being in college or travelling on Summer J1s.
“June is quite clearly a problematic time for students, as not only will they not be in college, but many will be travelling or on J1s. May is also not ideal but not the worst.”
However, echoing MSU’s President Leon Diop, Mr Ó Maoileannaigh raises the point that for the marriage equality referendum students still turned out to vote.
“Students mobilised like never before during the Marriage Equality Referendum and that was a May date.
“This is obviously an issue many students are passionate about, so now it’s all about education and getting people out there to vote,” says Mr Ó Maoileannaigh.
President of DCU’s Students Union, Niall Behan, also expressed concern about the proposed timeline of the referendum.
“I think June definitely would be problematic because a lot of students go on J1s so we definitely aim towards May but we would have to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the exam timetable,” says Mr Behan.
By: Leanne Salmon