Katie Ascough, who was impeached last fall as president of the University College Dublin Student Union (UCDSU) for her pro-life stance, has received the Westminster Award for Human Life, Human Rights, and Human Dignity.
In the company of parliamentarians and leading figures in the UK right-to-life movement, Ms. Ascough received the award Tuesday evening at a ceremony in the Palace of Westminster “for her integrity, courage, and public witness in favour of the open society, and the equality and right to life of unborn children.”
Elected president of the UCDSU in March of 2017, Ms. Ascough was impeached last October for refusing to publish illegal information about abortion in the freshman magazine. Ascough said that a number of students were looking to remove her from office from the day she was elected.
“I was elected on March 9th this year and some immediately called for my impeachment. It was flagged from day one that this might happen,” she said.
In 2016, Ascough campaigned against the renewal of UCDSU’s official position supporting the repeal of the Irish Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which recognizes the right to life of unborn children.
“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right,” the amendment states.
Ascough was impeached after she prevented the UCDSU from publishing information on the cost of abortion in other countries and on abortion pills. She had taken legal counsel and was told that the material was illegal and could expose the union to criminal proceedings.
“This is a sad day for me, but it is also a sad day for our university,” she said after the ouster.
“University should a place of freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of association. Fairness, respect for those who don’t wish to break the law, and respect for others with different beliefs, are critical to debate and intellectual freedom on campus,” she said.
The recipient of the Westminster Award is selected by the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and the Trustees of Right to Life, having taken advice from senior MPs and Peers in both Houses of Parliament.
The award, established in 2013, recognises extraordinary and notable work and achievements that safeguard the dignity and right to life of human beings.
Previous recipients include Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese human rights lawyer who defended victims of the country’s one-child policy, and Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow of the charity Mary’s Meals.
On receiving the award, Ms. Ascough said that she was accepting it on behalf 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,” she said.
At the award ceremony, Lord David Alton, senior member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, praised Katie Ascough as “a person of great personal integrity of character” and “boldness of vision.”
“I was so very pleased to be able to celebrate her public actions, and her role in the right-to-life movement in Ireland and internationally,” he said.
Alton said that Ascough’s 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.”
Since her impeachment, Ascough has spoken out for free speech and association on campus, especially for those with minority viewpoints, such as pro-life advocates.
Ascough has also indicated her intention to campaign for the retention of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment.
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