UCL Union’s Time to Choose

This Union Believes Women Should Not Have the Right to Choose

The Emergency Members’ Meeting took place last week, a supposed bastion of democracy, where key policy issues are open to discussion amongst the student body. Three items stood on the agenda: confidence in the provost, UCLU’s stance on global issues such as Palestine, and a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body.

What began as a proposal defending the democratic rights and welfare of female members soon disintegrated into a thinly veiled pro-life debate, brought on by an ignorant opposition. One gentleman suggested the policy curtails free speech; another questioned its contribution to student welfare. It is interesting that the majority against the proposal were men, and as a male feminist it does make me somewhat uncomfortable that this trend has occurred in a liberal university such as UCL; however, the most important issue is how these members overlook the policy’s key ideas. Perhaps the term ‘pro-choice’ was the only thing they saw in the document, which contains 643 other words.

The greatest point of confusion came from the question of protecting free speech. A clause stipulates that events open to all students, which included a debate on abortion rights, should invite speakers for both sides of the argument. Failing this, an independent chair should be present. Commotion was caused when one member compared it to a ‘bible studies group’ being forced to supply ‘Richard Dawkins’ as an adequate counter. Yet this is an unfair assertion. For such a serious issue like abortion, the only thing that would damage the freedom of members is to leave them uninformed of the whole debate. If the pro-life side of the topic is being side-lined then why would the policy formally assert that the argument must also be balanced at any pro-choice talks?

Following that, the suggestion to affiliate with Abortion Rights, an organisation carrying eight years of impeccable service in informing female students on their right to choose, was found contentious. Oxford, Goldsmiths and Leeds respective unions have joined, proving the group’s legitimacy. Nevertheless, because of a slight typing error, Abortion Rights was referred to in the motion as a charity rather than a support group. Proverbially, all hell broke loose over this. At least three of the opposition speakers reminded the audience that ‘Abortion Rights is not a charity’, some stressing it to the point of shouting. However, does this miscommunication remove the overall credibility of Abortion Rights? There was nothing to be gained from calling it a charity, no money was being raised. Furthermore, the group already has enough prestige to carry its own weight. It seems like the opposition were clutching at straws here.

Nevertheless, the UCLU Women’s Network – the proposers – did believe the affiliation may alienate some pro-life students. Their solution was to encourage an amendment for the removal of that clause. Democracy and Communications Officer James Skuse showed his support for this by seconding it at the Network’s request. This is what the WN have been trying to do: ensure their policy is completely accountable to the student body and protect the general democratic process. There is not one instance where the phrase ‘pro-life’ is mentioned in the actual policy document. Instead it is ‘anti-choice’. In the end the debate boils down to a question of choice. It is not whether you believe abortion is right or wrong. Instead it is democracy or ignorance, providing the best care for students or leaving them to do it for themselves. If Oxford does it, why do we refuse to – we are the liberal university, right?

By Zak Kell, As Published by Pi Newspaper

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