Belfast Student Banned From Conferences Over Abortion Votes.

Posted: May 15, 2013 in Abortion, Feminism, Students

Belfast student banned from student conferences over abortion votes.

Aisling Gallagher, a student at Queen’s University, Belfast has been banned from attending national conferences by her Student’s Union after voting in favour of a woman’s right to choose at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Congress.

Gallagher will be barred from attending any conference organised by a national union as a delegate from Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union (QUBSU) for the academic year 2013/14, thankfully the motion which would have seen her ban extended to 2014/15 was voted down by a Union meeting.

The ban will prevent Gallagher from attending any NUS-organised events including liberation conferences and NUS-USI conference, the joint UK-Irish union for students in Northern Ireland, as well as USI Congress.

QUBSU decided to implement the ban on Gallagher attending national conferences after she allegedly broke Union policy which mandated her to maintain a ‘neutral’ position on abortion. At USI Congress, Gallagher spoke and voted in favour of a motion which called on USI to continue to campaign for better access to abortion in Ireland and subsequently voted for a motion which called for the Irish Union to work with Choice Ireland to campaign against rogue pregnancy crisis centres which bullied women out of having abortions.

Gallagher disputes whether QUBSU’s live policy is binding on her as a delegate and says the Union’s policy states the issue of abortion is “a matter for each individual’s conscience”.

An open letter in support of Gallagher, signed by over 100 students, was published by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. It described QUBSU’s decision as “misogynistic, undemocratic and authoritarian”. It attacks QUBSU’s President Jason O’Neil for “exercising his power to stop women like Aisling fighting for their right to choose what happens with their bodies” and states “the right to choose is not up for negotiation, and we reject any attempt to silence a woman as she fights for her right to a free, legal and safe abortion”.

Access to abortion in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is greatly restricted relative to Great Britain. The Abortion Act 1967, which legalised abortion in England, Wales and Scotland, does not apply in Northern Ireland, where abortion laws were set in 1861.

Despite her ban, Gallagher says she believes her votes at USI congress were “the right thing to do” and says “I voted because women in Ireland are told to be ashamed of making a decision regarding their reproductive health, because Savita Halappanavar’s dying foetus was given more attention than she was.”

“I voted because I know women who have had abortions, because each one of us know women who have had abortions. I voted because my reproductive health is not the business of anyone else. I voted because QUBSU women students need to know that even though their union has abandoned them, there is still support from within the student population.”

She added “I voted because I am a feminist, because I believe in equality.”

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