Jade Wilson investigates the level of support for the movement among Irish universities.
The eighth amendment of the Irish constitution gives recognition to the right of the unborn child, making abortion illegal in Ireland. The amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983 was passed by 67% of the vote. A woman who has an illegal abortion in Ireland can face up to 14 years in prison, and healthcare workers who advise or aid women in seeking abortions are also liable to face criminal charges.
Abortion on the grounds of pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, or carrying an unviable foetus, is still illegal. The only circumstance in which it is legal for a woman to have an abortion in Ireland is if her own life is in significant danger, either from a medical emergency or suicidal intent. However, due to the complicated steps involved in qualifying for the procedure, legal abortions are rare in Ireland. According to a HSE report, only 25 legal terminations were carried out in Ireland in 2016. This is extremely low compared with the staggering estimation of 11 women per day travelling abroad to have an abortion (which would amount to approximately 4,000 Irish women travelling for abortions each year).
The United Nations and European Convention on Human Rights have spoken out against Ireland's abortion laws and have called upon Ireland for change. But what does Ireland's student population have to say on the issue?
Trinity College Dublin (TCD)
In 2014, TCDSU held a referendum on the issue in which 73% of students voted in support of the union's proposal to adopt a pro-choice stance.
University College Dublin (UCD)
UCD has held a pro-choice position since 2014. In November 2016, a second referendum was held with regards to whether the UCD Students' Union should remain pro-choice or adopt a policy of neutrality on the issue of abortion. 64% of students voted No to a neutral stance on the issue. UCD currently retains its pro-choice mandate.
NUI Galway (NUIG)
In 2013, NUIG students voted 69% in favour of repealing the eighth amendment.
University College Cork (UCC)
In November 2015, a referendum calling on UCCSU to campaign to repeal the eighth amendment passed by over 84%.
Maynooth University (MU)
The Maynooth Students’ Union referendum to support the repeal the eighth campaign was held in April 2016 and passed by 71%.
Dublin City University (DCU)
Last year, over 50% of DCU students who participated in the Repeal referendum voted for the Students' Union to adopt a pro-choice stance.
Dublin Institute of Technology, IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown are set to merge and form a Technological University for Dublin, with a combined student population of over 29,000. DITSU currently holds a pro-choice position. Whether a new vote will take place when the colleges merge remains to be seen.
These statistics show a clear pro-choice view amongst Ireland’s student population. However, levels of student engagement in politics and referendums are known to be low.
For example, in the Maynooth SU referendum, only 1922 votes were cast, representing only 14% of the student population there. Similarly, only 3,596 out of 17,282 students voted in the NUIG referendum.
Hiram, a second-year Film & Spanish student in Trinity, says “As pro-choice as I am, Ireland as a population and a society isn’t ready to be pro-choice in the same way Irish students are. Students barely vote though, which is so frustrating,” he continues. “We need every student possible who is pro-choice, or even those who wouldn’t ever choose an abortion themselves but who recognise the rights of others to make that choice, to go and vote. With that, we have a hope of a chance, without it, we haven’t a hope in hell.”
A representative of UCD for Choice commented “It cannot be stressed enough how important the youth vote is to the Repeal campaign. We encourage all young people to register to vote, attend rallies and get involved in local pro-choice groups.”
According to UCD for Choice’s representative, “The statistics released by the UK Department of Health this year show us why the youth vote is so important in the Repeal referendum. Women aged 16-24 made up 31% of those travelling overseas in 2016 to access abortion services. This is our epidemic, the 8th amendment is affecting young people in this country every day. Student activism is a driving force behind mobilising the youth vote; we saw that in the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015,” they went on to explain.
Women represent roughly 51 percent of Ireland's population today. 51 percent of the population are depending on our votes for a long overdue change in legislation. It is vital that we use our votes in the upcoming 2018 nationwide referendum. If you are not registered to vote yet, you can do so here.
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