We Are All Purists When it Comes to Protecting Life

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.

Niamh Ui Bhriain


Niamh Ui Bhriain blogs for the Life Institute (Dublin, Ireland).

  • Austin Ruse

    I want to thank Niamh for her thoughtful response to my column. We may disagree on what happened in the past, but we certainly agree on most things related to life and the vital importance for the world in keeping Ireland abortion free.

  • lifeknight

    THANK GOD FOR PURISTS! I admit I was confused with the misleading and slanderous article of Mr. Ruse because I do not fully comprehend Irish politics. I was shocked that CRISIS had printed it, and frankly, I was equally shocked at the number of people responding who were (and are) willing to compromise some of the babies some of the time. Thanks to all who are fighting to keep this monumental evil out of the Emerald Isle.

    • Alex

      There are some who want to save as many babies’ lives as is possible under the prevailing politics. These are the ones who promote any legislation, though not perfect, that will save lives.

      Then there are those who want to eliminate abortion in one fell swoop. They consider anything less than perfect as selling out. But both have the same end, the total elimination of abortion.

      The difference is that those who are willing to advance in increments, step by step, are saving lives today.

      • Bono95

        That’s me exactly, Alex. After reading this article, I can more clearly see that we can stop abortion in Ireland point blank without compromise if we act fast and act right. However, we can’t do that in America because it has already long since sunk far. To get abortion outlawed in America, we will have to fight step-by-step with various regulations (supporting the Pain Capable protection act, banning partial-birth abortion, demanding visible ultrasounds in abortion clinics and full information for patients, etc.). Sadly, some innocent babies will still die, but the numbers will be constantly reduced until full protection is possible. St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and Our Lady of Knock, pray for Ireland and keep all its people, born and unborn, safe.

        • musicacre

          Same in Canada, where absolutely NO law exists, as the abortion law was struck down in 1988 and never replaced with anything The noisy media and Feminists (same thing..:) have actively quashed any attempts of Parliament to address the situation. Now a courageous group called We Need a Law are tirelessly trying to get Parliament to introduce a bill to begin with SOME protection, since they found stats that 59% of Canadians are uncomfortable that there is no law at all. Begin by banning abortions done for sex-selection reasons and go from there. You have to realize that is how the enemy did it. One victory at a time.

  • Scott Waddell

    I think the principle that Evangelium Vitae lays out for politicians is a good guiding principle for all of us (my emphasis):

    In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition
    to procured abortion was well known
    , could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

    The fact is that we have gotten too comfortable with Three Exceptions anti-abortion.

    • All the same, it is important to remember that some things all sides can and should support, regardless of whether they are pro-or anti-Choice. Comprehensive education to avoid unwanted pregnancies, to include abstinence (abstinence alone will be opposed). Some form of inexpensive or free healthcare for pregnant women and for mothers and their children for at least a short time after birth, perhaps as much as a year, to include lactation education. Free vaccination for children. Better education for older children and adults. A living wage for working parents. No-questions-asked drug counseling/treatment for pregnant women in really bad situations. There are probably more, but hopefully all Catholics understand that those are all pro-life issues and would go a long way to reducing the number of abortions. Most of these will require the rest of us to open our wallets a little, to put our money where our convictions are. In America this would probably be a tax, though the current system of faith-based charities funded secondarily rather than government offices is a viable choice.

  • Amanda

    Now that we have the perspective from a writer inside Ireland, we, the readership, have a fuller picture and more facts. The previous article by Mr Ruse seems to be inaccurate a it relates to Irish politics, but as is pointed out in this article, the points that were brought up previously are highly applicable to countries where abortion is legal and any minimizing legislation is needed, whereas in Ireland, such legislation would legalize some abortions, which is obviously a step in the wrong direction.

  • crakpot

    The critical distinction made here is that abortion is already illegal in Ireland, so any vote that allows any of it must be a “no,” despite all the placating language that promises to increase protection for other lives already protected.

    In the United States, a handful of political appointees in black robes have declared the killing of unborn babies a “right” and backed it with the force of government. They twisted the language of the Constitution to subvert the moral authority it abides by. You save what lives you can, but NEVER put ink to paper that presupposes we have any authority under man-made law to make exceptions to the God-given right to life. If we have that authority, so do they. That is their objective.

    This was made plain by Holder’s refusal to submit himself to the 5th Amendment even when grilled by Cruz, prompting Rand Paul’s stand in the Senate. They want the power to kill.

  • givelifeachance2

    Hitler was an incrementalist. His position was that you had to put up with some fascist tactics in order to avert the more horrible evil of communism. The German people, and the European accommodationist leaders were, largely, incrementalists also, thinking that they could accept a little euthanasia here, some strongarming there, get the country on a firm heading before staring Hitler down. The only problem was, all that did was strengthen Hitler and his policies, till it took a terrible war to abolish the concentration camps. The only thing is, it didn’t abolish the concentration camps because they lived on in the communist countries. And so repeats the cycle of the false dialectic.

    It is up to American citizens to emulate the ideal of Ireland and insist on abolition of abortion, now. Saint Patrick would be proud.

    • Purists aren’t really purists

      The problem with your example is that it doesn’t factor in the American federalist system. We should most definitely push to end abortion on the federal level, overturning Roe V. Wade, but then it will go back to the states. The states, who can’t entirely criminalize abortion because it has been “recognized” as a constitutional right, can make it illegal incrementally. For instance, right now there is legislation being passed in states that makes abortions after 20 weeks illegal. It doesn’t legalize abortions before twenty weeks (Roe V. Wade did that), rather it sets in place laws that save lives now, and will continue saving lives once the “constitutional right” is overturned. I have trouble accepting the premise that this kind of legislation is somehow evil.

  • ruthsdaughter

    Great article. God Bless Ireland!

  • Thomas Word

    “Scallon believed the 2002 referendum was really pro-abortion because it protected unborn children from implantation onward. To make it clear, the referendum would not have created a constitutional right to kill pre-implantation embryos which remained legislatively protected.”

    • Augustus

      Who are you quoting? Your post is confusing otherwise. If YOU believe the author has misinterpreted the referendum–and you would not be the only one who does–then say so clearly.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I would not place too much faith in the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

    In England, in the case of R v Bourne [(1939) 1 K. B. 687] advantage was taken of the word “unlawfully” in Section 58 (shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever…”) to argue that there were cases where procuring an abortion was not unlawful. Dr Aleck Bourne, an eminent gynaecologist had performed an abortion on a 14-year old rape victim and invited the authorities to prosecute him. He argued that the girl’s life and health would otherwise have been at risk. After a favourable summing-up by Macnaghten, J., he was acquitted.

    In Northern Ireland, the Bourne defence has been judicially defined as available “where there is a risk that the mother may die or is likely to suffer long-term harm, which is serious, to her physical or mental health.” [The Family Planning Association Of Northern Ireland v The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety (2004) NICA 37]

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