YUSU have come under criticism from charities involved in this year’s RAG beneficiary elections following their decision to remove York Pregnancy Crisis Service, ‘Reflect’, from the ballot.
In a decision made by the election’s returning officer, YUSU Democracy and Services Officer Lewis Bretts, Reflect – a pregnancy counselling service – were deemed to be in contravention of Union policy “to actively campaign in support of the pro-choice lobby… [and] to present the arguments for choice at all times”.
Emily Ross-Smith, Centre Coordinator for Reflect York, argued that the decision stemmed from “short-sightedness and poor communication on [YUSU]’s part”, claiming that at no point in the decision making process were Reflect contacted to clarify the charity’s position regarding the provision of abortion services. Reflect’s mandate includes counselling for women, and their partners, who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy; they provide advice about abortion, adoption and parenting, and offer links with appropriate healthcare providers.
Brett’s claimed his concern regarding Reflect stemmed from the organisations’ affiliation with CareConfidential – a Christian charity who aim “to provide access to pre and post-abortion counselling and support for birth mothers.” Reflect claim to share “values and ethos” with the Christian group, but Ross-Smith was keen to emphasise that Reflect’s affiliation is limited to agreeing with CareConfidential’s duty of care statement, and stressed that Reflect are a completely autonomous and non-political organisation.
CareConfidential state on their website that their relationship with centres such as Reflect is minimal, maintaining that each affiliate “is accountable to and governed by its own trustees or management board. CareConfidential does not financially support any centre.”
In his decision to remove Reflect from the ballot, Bretts cited in his officer’s blog a 2007 study that briefly criticised CareConfidential’s parent organisation, among others, for incorrectly repeating the suggestion that abortion can contribute to increased risk of breast cancer. The information has since been removed from the CARE website.
The charity have not been returned to the RAG Beneficiary Ballot, which effectively ensures that they will not secure enough votes to win election. Ross-Smith has said that she accepts that Reflect will not be returned to the ballot, and maintains that the main problem is now the ongoing damage being done to the charity’s reputation due to the claims made in Bretts’ officer blog, which remains on the YUSU website.
“I do worry that now that the blog has gone up that people are going to think the wrong thing,” she commented. “When I actually spoke to Lewis he said that he didn’t have a problem with us, and what he saw from our website and what we offer isn’t an issue. But I feel that, because he has this on the [YUSU] website that students who don’t know us are going to think that this information is correct, and assume that we’re forcing them to do things, or not to do things, when that’s just not our aim or desire at all.”
The controversy comes in the wake of general criticism of the poor organisation of the RAG elections. Technical problems meant that the start of the election had to be postponed from Monday to Wednesday, and planning errors lead the time allotted for a beneficiary fair on Thursday being halved. Charities received no official information from YUSU about the timings or location of the fair, or what promotional material was acceptable. This left some stalls using only homemade material, while poor publicity did little to counter student apathy and resulted in a low turnout on the day.
Alice Mumby, the student charity representative for Applefields Schools commented on the situation: “I hope, despite all of the problems and confusion, it doesn’t put students off from voting. It can be difficult to drum up interest without some of these obstacles, especially for the local charities who perhaps are unheard of.”
Ross-Smith and Reflect were not informed of their ineligibility until they set up their stall at Wednesday’s Beneficiary Fair, a move Ross-Smith condemned as “unprofessional.”
“It’s difficult when they didn’t even tell us that we weren’t going to be voted for, it’s not on,” she commented after the event. “If they’re going to get outside organisations in, and invite delegates from international charities they need to adopt a more professional approach, it’s got to be much better prepared.”