By Charlotte King
Cardiff University’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held on November 21 and saw students putting forward various motions, calling upon Cardiff University’s Students’ Union to act in a number of ways. One of the evening’s motions, proposed by Isadora Sinha, calling upon the Students’ Union to adopt an official pro-choice stance, passed with a near unanimous vote in favour of the motion.
The motion demanded that the Students’ Union adopt a stance on abortion rights and bodily autonomy and alleged that misinformation has been spread about the medical procedure of abortion by Students’ Union affiliated societies. It also called upon the Students’ Union to provide more comprehensive ‘Pregnancy Support’ in line with its level of awareness of other health-related issues like mental health, wellbeing and sexual health. Additionally, it asked the Union to change its pregnancy and abortion-related terminology; provide up-to-date information on where to seek help on the back of Students’ Union toilet stall doors; create a pro-choice awareness campaign highlighting the importance of access to safe and legal abortion; and ensure that Students’ Union affiliated societies do not spread misinformation about abortion and pregnancy nor participate in activities against the Union’s policy.
The passion of students from both sides of the argument in the room was undeniable. Speaking to the crowd, Sinha expressed, “carrying pregnancy needs to be an individual choice and the Students’ Union stance should reflect this” and stated that this motion does not censor anyone but rather will help create a “supportive learning environment” for students.
Other supporters of the motion took to the stage too with one student arguing that becoming pro-choice does not mean that the Students’ Union becomes actively anti-abortion but ensures people have the right to bodily autonomy. Another student expressed that supporting the motion is supporting a basic human right and if people have not experienced having to make a choice on pregnancy themselves, they should “listen to the ones who have been there”.
However, the motion was met with opposition from some students. Prior to the AGM, Cardiff University Catholic Society published an open letter addressed to them by Reverend Fr Sebastian Jones from the University Catholic Chaplaincy calling the motion a “troubling development”. Prior to voting on the motion, it was warned that if the motion were to be passed, CathSoc would resign its membership of the Guild of Societies and continue to function independently of the Guild. However, at the time of writing it is not certain whether this will be going ahead in light of the motion’s result.
Cardiff Students for Life, a society aiming to “promote, expand and develop understanding of pro-life issues” also voiced concerns regarding the motion prior to AGM, calling on all of its members to attend the AGM to vote against the motion “for our freedom of speech and conscience”.
At the event, students opposing the motion said: “our human rights are being threatened”. One student argued that approving the motion would endanger students’ right to freedom of expression, conscience and choice. They stated that students have the right to a space for balanced debate and that the motion greatly offends the Catholic community at Cardiff University. A second speaker in opposition to the motion also stated that this motion would prevent the Students’ Union committing to its principle of inclusivity by denying their right to hold a contrary opinion to being pro-choice and would prevent certain students from being able to practice their faiths. Another student also felt the motion would be the same as the Students’ Union affiliating itself with a political party in principle.
As the debate drew to a close, Sinha returned to the stage to express how the Students’ Union is not neutral on racism or transphobia and bodily autonomy is “a basic human right”; she feels there is no neutral. “It needs to be [the pregnant woman’s] choice and it needs to be an informed one.” Henceforth, the Students’ Union will now officially adopt a pro-choice stance and provide pregnancy support for students which is “unbiased and medically accurate” by now referring to a foetus at 13-weeks instead of a baby. Additionally, up-to-date information on pregnancy-related medical services will be posted on toilet stall doors, VP Welfare and Campaigns will ensure the Union is campaigning for and provides strategies for the pro-choice stance, and VP of Societies and Volunteering will see that societies “do not spread misinformation about abortion and pregnancy nor participate in activities against SU policy”.