A pro-lifer who was ousted as president of the students’ union at University College Dublin has described how activists on social media made “physical threats” against her and called for her to die.
Katie Ascough, who was impeached last month, said that despite the “scary” climate of debate pro-lifers had to continue to speak up and not “tiptoe around” the issue.
In an article for the Irish Times she wrote: “To those who are anti-abortion, I urge you to be confident, brave and unafraid. It can be scary – trust me, I know. But please, for the sake of our country, do not tiptoe around this issue because you’re concerned about what other people might think. Thought policing smothers true debate and is one of the biggest threats to a free democracy. We give in to it when we allow ourselves to be silenced.”
She described how the bullying started as soon as she ran for student president and was billed as the “girl with the draconian anti-abortion views”.
“I ignored the holes punched in my posters and the tweets calling for my demise,” she said.
The abuse later returned during a row over abortion information contained in student guides.
Ascough had stopped the guides from including details about abortion pills and the cost of abortions abroad as she had been advised such information was illegal and could leave the union open to criminal proceedings.
She was accused of trying to censor the information because of her pro-life views and became the target of what many, she said, had described as a “witch hunt”.
“During my campaign against impeachment, I had a lecturer say to my face: ‘I want you gone.’ Another interrupted my speech with disparaging comments. Online there were physical threats, negative comments on my life, my looks, my family, my views. Nothing was held back.”
Her ousting as student president comes as Ireland prepares for a referendum on abortion next year.
Voters will be asked whether or not the country’s constitution should be changed to permit abortions on wider grounds. Currently, the Eighth Amendment puts the life of the unborn child and the mother on an equal footing. Abortion is only allowed in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The vote is expected to take place in May or June – weeks before the Pope’s visit to the country.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee set up to propose changes to the constitution has been accused of being heavily pro-choice, with pro-life witnesses refusing to appear before it.
Psychiatrist Dr Patricia Casey said in a statement: “It has become increasingly clear that the process of the committee has been so arranged as to reach a pre-set decision without balanced consideration of any evidence that runs contrary to this pre-determined outcome.”
Earlier this week Sinn Féin MP Peadar Tóibín made the same criticism. “When you look at the balance of the members and also the witnesses, 24 witnesses were pro-choice and four witnesses were pro-life. I’m a committee chair and even on issues I don’t agree with I would make sure there is a balance of people coming before a committee so that there is a good honest debate,” he said.
Catherine Noone, the committee’s chairwoman, said it had simply struggled to find pro-life medical witnesses.