Last Friday, March 1st, an unprecedented gathering met in Stormont in Belfast in the north of Ireland.
Politicians were represented from all sides of the political divide, as they joined political figures and campaigners to make an All-Ireland call for the protection of human life.
It was a vitally important show of unity, and it came at a critical time for Ireland, where the government is on the brink of legalizing abortion—though that push may yet be averted by measures which are informing and raising up the pro-life majority.
Instrumental to the widely reported and effective Stormont gathering was former MEP, Dana Rosemary Scallon, much admired throughout the whole island of Ireland for her staunch pro-life views.
It was ironic then, that Ms Scallon was subjected to a highly-personalized and strikingly inaccurate attack in Crisis magazine on the very same day as the event in Stormont.
Austin Ruse wrote that the “fault” for Ireland’s current pro-life crisis “can be laid directly on the doorstep of a tiny handful of misguided pro-lifers ten years ago” and went on at length to place the bulk of the blame at Dana’s door.
What nonsense. Even a cursory examination of the facts would show that the threat of legalized abortion in Ireland comes from sources very familiar to pro-life activists throughout the world: namely an alliance of Planned Parenthood with abortion activists and media outlets, bolstered by European and UN meddlers. That motley crew, who are very well funded and powerful, are at fault for the current push to use an external court to foist abortion on Ireland.
Abortion campaigners have also cynically exploited the death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital last year, using speculative reporting, misinformation and downright scaremongering to claim that Ireland’s pro-life laws were responsible, even though the facts reveal that Savita tragically died of septicaemia following a miscarriage.
Irish doctors were quick to point out that there is no confusion amongst Irish medical practitioners as to their ability—and their duty—to intervene to save women’s lives. But the exploitation of this tragedy gave abortion advocates a momentum they had previously been unable to muster.
However, the good news is that the push to smash Ireland’s pro-life ethos is being strongly resisted. More than 30,000 people gathered to protest against abortion proposals at the Vigil for Life in January—that’s the equivalent of some 3 million people in the US. And more than 40,000 people have signed a pledge promising to withhold their vote from the largest party in government—Fine Gael—if they break a pre-election commitment not to legalize abortion.
The government has also scored several own goals in relation to this issue. The health minister and Taoiseach (prime minister) have insisted that they must legislate for abortion on suicide grounds. But a hearing convened by the government conclusively showed that abortion was not considered a treatment for suicidality by any of the leading medical experts.
Bringing these findings to the attention of the public has become a key endeavour for pro-life activists—and the polls show that the awareness and information drives are working.
We need more time spent on engagement, and less time spent on resurrecting old divisions.
Then there is the matter of the statutory protections granted in the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act, which criminalizes abortionists, and which the government wants to repeal. Dana and others called for the Act to be maintained at Stormont, where Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life pointed out that it is currently being used to stop Marie Stopes International from opening the first Irish abortion clinic in Ireland.
It was a message that resonated strongly with the Irish people.
Right now in Ireland then, we are fighting for the lives of our children and to offer better protections to our mothers. This is a battle for the soul of our country and we need to be sharp, focused and united. What is not required are accusatory articles on the 2002 referendum.
That referendum on abortion was opposed by many pro-life people and groups including Youth Defence, Human Life International and others. Many others who supported it did so reluctantly, and the low turnout showed the public were confused on the proposal. That was because several major flaws made it very difficult to support the measure.
Firstly, it allowed for the direct ending of the life of the unborn child in certain circumstances.
Secondly, it only outlawed abortion from implantation—paving the way for embryonic stem cell research which was then considered by the European Union to offer huge potential .
(Dana, being an Member of the European Parliament understood the support for ESCR from within the EU better than most, and the likely influence of same on the drafting of the proposal. This concern was later shown to be correct.)
Thirdly, it removed the criminal sanctions of the 1861 Act from those who would carry out abortions.
The proposal was rejected. The pro-life movement has worked since then to obtain better protections for human life—such as the use of clever, highly visible campaigns from Youth Defence, for example, which gain public support for a ban on embryo research.
Mr Ruse draws parallels between proposals in the US and Ireland, but he is comparing apples and oranges. Abortions are not carried out in Ireland, so we cannot accept a measure which allows even for limited abortion. What we can do is to fight with committed and unceasing prayer and action to protect our ban on abortion.
Having said that, when it comes to protecting life, I’ll put my hands up and admit I am a purist—if that’s the term for being pro-life from conception, without exception. I fully accept that measures which attempt to restrict existing abortion practices in countries like Britain and the US should be supported. However, it should never be the policy of any pro-life group to support the decriminalization of abortion or to support a measure which denies the right to life of every child from conception.
That’s especially true in a jurisdiction where no abortions whatsoever are being carried out. In my experience we are all purists then when it comes to protecting life.
Every child deserves protection from abortion. Their lives are not for me to sign away; their right to life is not mine to compromise. As pro-life advocates we must love both mother and baby—and insist that there is always a better answer than abortion. That’s the Irish pro-life stance, and that’s worth fighting for.
Editor’s note: The image above is taken from the January 19 Unite for Life vigil in Dublin attended by an estimated 30,000 participants.