Abortion debate comes to a head at uni with referendum to disaffiliate pro-life club video

Adam Jacobson / Stuff.co.nz

ProLife Auckland could be disaffiliated from the Auckland University Students Association.

The fate of a university anti-abortion club will be decided this week in a referendum that could see it disaffiliated. 

Auckland University Students Association members are now able to vote on whether the ProLife Auckland group should remain affiliated with the association.

The referendum also asks whether clubs with a "similar ideology" should be banned from affiliating in the future.

ProLife Auckland co-president Jelena Middleton said the referendum to disaffiliate the club from the student union came ...
ADAM JACOBSON/STUFF

ProLife Auckland co-president Jelena Middleton said the referendum to disaffiliate the club from the student union came out of the blue.

It is not the first time the club has faced disaffiliation since its inception in 2010. There have been multiple motions to have the group disaffiliated, but all have failed. 

READ MORE: Anti-abortion club faces university ban

Should the referendum be successful, ProLife would still be able to organise and debate, but would not be recognised or endorsed by the association as being in the interest of students.

Auckland Students for Choice spokeswoman Justine Rose said ProLife Auckland was an "embarrassment" to the students' ...
ADAM JACOBSON/STUFF

Auckland Students for Choice spokeswoman Justine Rose said ProLife Auckland was an "embarrassment" to the students' association.

ProLife Auckland co-president Jelena Middleton said she was "dismayed" to hear about the motion. 

The club's aim is to support women through crisis pregnancies by spreading information about pregnancy and abortion-related issues on campus, she said.

"[Abortion] is not a positive thing, it just seems to be an accepted stance here.

"We don't think that it is in the mother's best interest, and obviously not in the child's. We believe that we need to always keep in mind both the mother and the child, not just one or the other." 

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Middleton, who is in her second year of a Bachelor of Science majoring in statistics and biology, said the group was "very peaceful". 

Being disaffiliated would mean the group would struggle to get funding and would be restricted in its activities and advertising on campus, she said. 

Middleton believed the "majority are trying to silence a minority" and the group had been singled out because of its beliefs. 

"If we're being targeted because of our beliefs and not for any real reason, then that clearly goes against any freedom of expression.

"They don't need to accept our beliefs, but they do need to accept our right to say them."

Auckland Students for Choice spokeswoman Justine Rose, who is also a member of Campus Feminist Collective, said ProLife had been an "embarrassment for AUSA for a long time". 

Rose said the student union should not be representing a group which wants to "take away rights for 50 per cent of the student body: our women.

"If [the members] are confident they belong in the student body and AUSA should represent them, they should let this vote go ahead."

Rose said the claim that disaffiliation would breach members' right to free speech was false, as it would not affect their right to assemble or practice in any way.

The referendum spoke to the wider issue of women's rights to choose, she said.

"This isn't some kind of abstract debate, this is real life."

AUSA president Will Matthews said the debate was a continuation of the "oldest issue" on campus.

"I've been at this university for six years and this is the fourth or fifth time that the issue around ProLife affiliation has come up."

While AUSA affiliation was a largely symbolic recognition by the student body, it did offer some funding and campus accessibility benefits. 

Just one submission was needed for a group's disaffiliation to be included in the referendum, he said.

If fewer than 200 students vote, the proposal is considered non-binding, and the AUSA executive makes the decision. 

Matthews said a number of issues had been raised around the legality of the proposal, including the group's right to speech and assembly on campus, so AUSA had sought legal advice. 

Should AUSA not hear from its lawyer before Friday, any results would be provisional, Matthews said. 

The online referendum runs until 5pm on Friday.

 - Stuff

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