Yesterday, a motion was discussed in Student Senate entitled ‘Becoming a Pro-Choice Union’. Debate lasted for nearly three hours, and emotions ran high on all sides. I’m writing this article to explain why I submitted the motion and why I think CUSU should take an explicit pro-choice stance.
My motion covered ten different areas, ranging from asking the Union to support campaigns that aim to make access to abortion easier and fairer for women and ensuring any information about abortion or contraception that is presented as scientific fact and distributed or presented around the Union and University is academically referenced, to opposing restrictions to abortion or contraceptive rights that may be brought to Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales.
Firstly, a definition of pro-choice. While the dictionary definition of the term refers solely to abortion, the concept as it is now generally used refers to reproductive autonomy. Every woman should have the right to have children, and be supported through pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. They also should have the right to safe, supportive and legal abortion services if they want to terminate a pregnancy.
Ultimately, a woman’s right to choose when, and if, to have children is fundamental. I am pro choice because I believe I, and I alone, have the right to make decisions about my body. Women having full control over their own bodies is a key element of their human rights, and is crucial in the fight for women’s equality.
So it’s clear being a Pro-Choice Union is not solely about supporting access to abortion. That is an important part of it, but it’s also about ensuring every female student at Cardiff has access to contraception and emergency contraception. It is about supporting student parents and helping them access childcare and additional support, including financial help.
No student at Cardiff should have to worry about how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, or fear they will be asked to leave their course because they are pregnant. They need to know their Union will support them in whatever decision they make about their body, no matter what they choose.
I like to think most people reading this understand why control over fertility is a cornerstone of gender equality, even though sadly it was clear some in the room on Tuesday disagreed. The biggest point of controversy was whether the Union should prevent affiliated societies and groups acting under the banner of CUSU from taking part in anti-choice protests or rallies that present a threat to women’s welfare.
At the moment, the religious group 40 Days for Life are conducting a forty day prayer vigil outside of the abortion clinic on St Mary’s Street.
It can be a painful and extremely difficult decision to make regardless; added to the fears of what friends and family could think ,and the stress caused by trying to find the money for the procedure, and it’s easy to see how this could be one of the most vulnerable moments of her life. Now add in the presence of protesters with signs and banners protesting, who pray out loud that she repents her immoral choice, and it’s hopefully obvious how the presence of protests outside is felt by many women to be intimidating.
Other groups take a more active approach, and actively heckle women. Shouting, screaming and insulting women is quite clearly harassment, and there are plenty of stories of women feeling too unsafe to go to a clinic.
These protests have a wider impact – there are stories from around the world of abortion clinics having to close because women experienced too much harassment. A victory for the pro-life movement, a huge blow for women who need a legal medical procedure.
Should the activities of any group cause the closest clinic to Cardiff University to close, women students will have to go further afield and spend more money, making getting an abortion even more stressful.
Protest outside abortion clinics is an issue of women’s welfare. Making women feel they cannot take control of their own body is a direct threat to reproductive autonomy, and something that I very strongly feel the Union should be condemning. Asking the Union to prevent groups from protesting as a society does not impact what individuals choose to do.
It is not a question of free speech; societies can continue to hold whatever opinions they want, debate and discuss abortion, go to pro-life conferences, and more. In short, societies can continue doing what they currently do. What they cannot do is take part in activities that threaten the welfare of women.
Currently, no societies attend protests under the banner of CUSU – something I’m very grateful for. Sadly, this does not mean that future groups will not, and so it is important that this is made policy to prevent it happening later on.
This is by no means a ‘No platform policy to pro-lifers’ as one amendment suggested. As I said many times last night, free and open discussion should be the cornerstone of what this Union does, and it is incredibly important to have a diversity of views.
However, by keeping the status quo and refusing to put restrictions on what societies can do, the Union is effectively accepting and endorsing behaviour that could directly threaten the wider student body. First and foremost, we should be protecting the needs of students.
Taking a pro-choice stance actually means that the Union is making a committment to support the autonomy and rights of women, which is something it already does. All the motion asks is to make a policy out of it. Being pro-choice is not about promoting abortion: it is about recognising that women should have the first and only right to make decisions about their own body.
Speaking both as Women’s Officer and as a woman, a pro-choice Union is a Union that is placing the fight for gender equality at its heart, and it’s a Union I would be proud to be a part of.