Pro-life students should be “brave and courageous” in speaking out for their beliefs, a former Student Union president who was removed for her views has said.
Katie Ascough, who was impeached as president of the University College Dublin Student Union, said the atmosphere of conformity at universities could be “suffocating”, but speaking out was “absolutely worth it”.
She was speaking after receiving the Westminster Award in London. The award recognises “extraordinary and notable work and achievements that safeguard the dignity and right to life of human beings”.
Previous winners have included Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer who challenged the country’s one-child policy, and Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow of the charity Mary’s Meals.
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The award is chosen by the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and trustees of charity Right To Life.
Katie Ascough said that she accepted the award on behalf of “the pro-life generation” and all people who find themselves in difficulty because they support the right to life of the unborn child.
“I accept it not only on behalf of myself, but of all students and right-to-lifers more generally who suffer unjust discrimination because of their beliefs, in the teeth of bigotry and illiberalism from abortion advocates on campus or in wider society.
“I urge such people to stay strong, and to follow the courage of their convictions. It may be difficult, but ultimately, I can assure them, it’s absolutely worth it.”
Katie was removed as president of her student union after she prevented it publishing information on the cost of abortion in other countries and on abortion pills.
She had received legal advice that the material was against the law, and could have exposed the union to criminal proceedings. However, students started a campaign against her that saw her lose an impeachment vote.
Lord Alton praised Katie’s “integrity of character” and “boldness of vision”.
“I know her example will inspire many people throughout the country to stand for the rights of all the vulnerable, and insist on the space and liberty to work on campus or in medicine with a clear conscience according to their best moral principles,” he said.
“If we want to live in a truly liberal and diverse society, then we must accommodate even minority moral viewpoints, and it is vital that the humane and just principles of students and others who advocate for protections for all members of the human family have the freedom to live and work in accordance with their passion for justice.”
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