A move to ban an anti-abortion club from the Auckland University Students' Association has been defeated overwhelmingly after an emotional debate about free speech.
A special general meeting attended by a large and noisy crowd in the university quad voted 227-125 yesterday against a motion to disaffiliate the ProLife Auckland club "for propagating harmful misinformation".
Club president Amy Blowers, a second-year philosophy student, broke down in tears as she was embraced by club members afterwards.
The association's women's rights officer, Angela Smith, who put the motion to the executive, said the big turnout showed that students "want to have a say in student matters".
She earlier told the crowd a vote to disaffiliate would not take away the pro-lifers' freedom of speech, but would declare that the students' association did not want to be associated with the club.
"I for one do not want to be associated with a club that doesn't even know the abortion procedures in New Zealand," she said.
The club was accused of spreading "harmful misinformation" in a pamphlet alleging that abortion can lead to subsequent premature births, miscarriages or infertility, and can cause mental health problems.
Ms Smith said abortion had never caused a single death of a woman in New Zealand, and contrasted that with 57 women who died through childbirth between 2007 and 2010.
Last year's women's rights officer, Sophie Buchanan, said the students' association "has no obligation to provide a platform for harmful and misleading information".
But Ms Blowers said the anti-abortion pamphlet was backed by reputable research including a study which has followed about 1000 people born in Christchurch in 1977 and found an association between having an abortion and later mental health problems.
A disabled member of ProLife Auckland urged students to support "an inclusive campus where everyone is free to speak".
"They are not disaffiliating the Young Nats because their budget forecasts are fiction. They are here against us because they don't like what we say," he said.
"Since the 13th century, universities have been a haven for real, honest dissenting opinions."
The Students' Association clubs officer Kit Haines said he did not know whether he was for or against abortion, but he did not favour disaffiliating clubs.
"This is not whether you are pro-life or pro-choice ... but whether you think their actions are worth disaffiliating is the question."