A Catholic student group at the University of Queensland has been censored and threatened with disaffiliation from the school’s student union because student union leaders believed the group’s “pro-woman” and “pro-pregnancy” campaign took a stand against abortion.
As part of a pregnancy support campaign, the Newman Society at the school displayed a poster and distributed leaflets that bore a photo of an eight-week old fetus in the womb.
According to The Australian, a disciplinary hearing run by the student union’s clubs and societies committee has banned the Newman Society from again displaying the material on a booth outside the student café. The society was placed on 12 months’ probation and must submit all future material to three officials, including the student union president, for approval.
Newman Society secretary Elise Nally, a third-year applied science student, said the union’s action was totalitarian and against free speech.
"I'd like to know what laws we've broken," Nally said. "The union is acting like a dictator."
Student union president Joshua Young, who is associated with the Liberal Party, described the reasons for the decision.
“I know the Newman Society thinks the union is being heavy handed, but the student union voted in 1993 for free, safe abortion on demand so all women have a genuine choice when faced with unwanted pregnancy,” he said.
A minority of the university’s 30,000 students voted in the 1993 referendum. According to The Australian, Young said the vote was about 1900 in favor of abortion rights, 1400 against, and 200 abstaining.
When asked if the vote precludes other views being advocated in campus debate, Young said “It does.”
Camillus O’Kane, national president of the Australian Catholic Student Association (ACSA), criticized the decision in a statement.
“If the truth becomes something we can simply vote for, it becomes a weapon that can be used against others. This is why freedom of speech is one of the guiding principles of our society,” O’Kane said. “It is a shame that this incident has occurred at one of Australia’s leading universities, a place of learning where we should be able to express our views freely.”
The ACSA said in a statement that pro-life groups had been active at the University of Queensland for five years after the student referendum’s passage in 1993 and no disciplinary action was taken against them. The ACSA argued that the referendum only established the school as a pro-choice campus, and did not require any particular viewpoint to be suppressed.
Elise Nally, the secretary of the University of Queensland’s Newman Society, is also national treasurer of ACSA.
In the ACSA statement, she said, “university can be a time when young women might be faced with the difficult challenge of an unplanned pregnancy. Those women not only deserve compassion, but also support.”