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How Lucinda and Averil clashed over abortion as students more than a decade ago

The 2002 abortion referendum debate made for a heated political battle between two of the country’s rising young political stars.

SHE STOOD DOWN as a Fine Gael minister of state in 2013 over the suicide clause in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

But Renua leader Lucinda Creighton was on the opposite side of the abortion debate over a decade ago, when she was attending Trinity College Dublin.

Back in 2002, the 22-year-old law student was a leading member of a pro-choice group called the Trinity Abortion Referendum Taskforce, or “Tart” for short, which agitated for students to play a greater role in that year’s abortion referendum campaign.

12666538_1128176493868321_456266926_n Source: Trinity News

The eventually rejected constitutional amendment proposed by the Fianna Fáil government would have tightened the ban on abortion by removing the threat of suicide as a grounds for terminating a pregnancy.

In the months before the vote, Averil Power, the independent senator who was then the 23-year-old president of the university’s students’ union (TCDSU), had refused to take a position on the issue.

Creighton was one of a number of students who objected to her stance, arguing that the union should actively campaign against the referendum.

Pro-choice activists on campus were concerned that the wording of the proposed act, which sought to make it a criminal offence to “assist” in an abortion, could threaten the legality of the university’s crisis pregnancy counselling service.

But TCDSU accepted assurances from the then minister for health, Micheál Martin, that the amendment would not affect pregnancy counselling in any way.

Capture Source: Trinity News

The political row became personal when Tart plastered campus walls with posters accusing the SU of pursuing the interests of Power’s party, Fianna Fáil, and not the student body, in its decision to stay neutral on the issue.

According to contemporary reporting by student newspaper Trinity News, one particularly controversial poster depicted her in military dress, with a Fianna Fáil badge on her uniform.

The stunt led to a confrontation between Power and Tarts late one Sunday night, when the SU president was found ripping down the posters.

Power subsequently complained about the move to the junior dean, a college official charged with investigating alleged breaches of discipline by students.

The complaint was eventually dismissed, according to Trinity News, which reported that Tarts had reduced Power “to tears”.

In a letter to the same paper, she claimed to have been subjected to “harassment and intimidation by campaign groups” calling on her to oppose the referendum.

Capture Source: Trinity News

At the next SU meeting, one student proposed a motion of censure against Power, accusing her of suppressing pro-choice views.

Trinity News reported that “a visibly upset” Power rebutted that, as Tart was not a recognised student group, they had no right to put up the posters.

The referendum was eventually rejected by a margin of 50.42% to 49.58%, but that year’s campaign proved to be just the first of many political battles for the two young women.

Then and now

Today, Averil Power is one of the country’s most prominent senators, known especially for her role in the marriage equality referendum.

How does she remember that year as SU president now, close to a decade and a half later?

“It was a tough time for me personally as the Tarts campaign was very nasty,” Power said in an email to TheJournal.ie.

30/1/2015. Bills To Regulate Electronic Cigarettes Source: RollingNews.ie

The group, she said, “ran a highly personalised campaign” against her after she decided not to publicly take a stand on the issue.

She added that, as SU president, she felt it was her responsibility “to fight for the democratically adopted position” of the union, whose executive’s decision was later endorsed by the university’s student council.

“The reasoning behind this decision was that abortion was a very controversial issue at the time and that by taking either side the union would risk alienating a large proportion of its membership,” Power said.

This would undermine its support among students and negatively affect its other campaigns on issues such as student grants and the accommodation crisis.

Capture Source: Trinity News

“At no time did I indicate my personal views on the referendum,” she added.

Various publications ascribed different views – both pro life and pro choice – to me.
 However, I didn’t take a side publicly. I felt my responsibility was to uphold the SU’s position and that my personal views were irrelevant.

Power said she supports repealing the eighth amendment and believes termination  should be an option in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, as well as when there is a threat to the life or health of mothers.

Lucinda Creighton, who was expelled from Fine Gael after opposing abortion legislation in 2013, did not respond to requests for comment.

During a Dáil debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, however, the now Renua leader spoke about how her views on the issue of abortion had changed since she was a student.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“I have spoken previously about the fact that I held a very different view on this matter when I was a student,” she said.

After much reflection, my views have evolved over the years; as I learned more about the topic, as I came in contact with friends and family affected by abortion, and as I matured and developed my own independent analysis of this most sensitive topic.

“Of course I respect the right of people to campaign for liberal access to abortion,” she added.

Maybe they do not consider abortion to  be the intentional ending of human life, and so they simply see it as a medical procedure, which can simply be regarded as a clear-cut choice.
I can appreciate this way of thinking because I used to think that way myself.  Carried along with the accepted supposedly “progressive” view on abortion, I never considered the other life involved.

Read: Irish film follows a young couple as they go to England for an abortion

Read: Sexual consent workshops to be compulsory for new TCD students

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About the author:

Catherine Healy

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