Tag Archives: Pro-Life

From top: pro-life protesters pray outside the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin; Donnchadh Ó Conaill

Ireland’s new abortion regime has been in place for just over a year. From the first days of its implementation there have been protests at hospitals, and attendant calls for legal limits to such protests. Simon Harris is considering introducing exclusion zones around hospitals and other medical facilities which provide abortions.

Exclusion zones raise a number of different challenges, and it is important to distinguish between them.

The most obvious worry is that such zones would infringe the rights of people to peacefully and legitimately protest. Whether this is correct as regards anyone’s legal or constitutional rights is a question which may be tested in court, should exclusion zones be introduced.

Whether the state has the right, morally speaking, to impose such zones is another matter. The principle that people should be able to peacefully protest against activities with which they disagree, even if those activities are legal, is a very plausible one.

This principle can be overridden if the protests involve intimidation or harassment, or physically prevent people from using legally available facilities. But this does not seem to have been a feature of the anti-abortion protests over the past year – at any rate, I am not aware of legal proceedings arising from any such incidents.

That said, it is not clear if exclusion zones would actually contradict the principle. It is surely not the case that anyone should be able to protest in any venue, at any time or in any way whatsoever.

You may be free to organise a march down O’Connell Street, but not whenever you so choose; you may be free to protest the government’s actions, but it does not follow that you can do so using a loudhailer in the Dáil chamber in the middle of a debate.

There is some evidence that these protests are causing distress to people seeking to use hospital services (and not always for anything to do with abortion; some reports have mentioned the distress caused to women who have miscarried).

This is not a reason to ban all protests against the provision of abortion, but it does provide some reason to prevent them from being held at venues where the chances of causing such distress will obviously be higher.

But exclusion zones would raise another problem. Even if they would not in and of themselves infringe the rights of protestors, there is still reason to regard them as dangerous, because of the precedent they set.

When thinking about whether a law limiting someone’s freedom should be introduced, it is useful to ask yourself whether you would be prepared to have this law applied in your own case.

How happy would you be if a government was to use exclusion zones to limit protests against something to which you were opposed (e.g., renditions or troop movements through Shannon, an arms fair, an industrial development despoiling a historical site)?

Even if you agree that the state has the moral authority to do this, you might not agree that it should.

The freedom to protest is particularly important for minorities and groups which do not have much social or political power. Most people will be in the minority on at least some issues, and would potentially stand to lose if the right to protest is limited in this way.

Whether or not you have much sympathy for the anti-abortion protesters is beside the point. Their freedom to protest peacefully is your freedom as well.

For this reason, it is worth exploring alternatives to exclusion zones which can counteract the protests without limiting the freedom of protesters. One option would be to organise counterprotests, but it is difficult to imagine these reducing distress caused by the initial protests.

Another alternative would be to use the protest as a means to undermine its own aims. Every year neo-Nazis march in the town of Wunsiedel in Germany in memory of Rudolf Hess, who was once buried there. In 2014, the march was turned into an anti-racist fundraising event: for every metre the neo-Nazis marched, €10 was donated by local businesses to EXIT-Deutschland, a group that works to rehabilitate right-wing extremists.

The We Counter Hate campaign used similar tactics – it would reply to tweets containing hate speech, informing the author that for every retweet a dollar would be donated to the anti-extremist group Life After Hate. This led to a 65% reduction in retweets.

As Tony McAleer, co-founder of Life After Hate and himself a former neo-Nazi puts it:

“The answer isn’t to suppress behaviour, the answer is to change it”

To be clear, anti-abortion campaigners are not comparable to neo-Nazis. But in principle the same tactic could be employed: people could pledge a certain sum of money for every protest, or even every protester, at a hospital which provides abortion.

The amount per individual could be quite small if enough people signed up, and could be capped at a certain amount each month. The money could be pledged to groups working to advocate for abortion rights or providing information on how to access services.

The aim would be to disincentivise the protests without limiting anyone’s rights. Protesters would have to decide if they were happy to go ahead with an action which would have the effect of potentially raising thousands of Euro for the very causes they oppose.

Of course, this tactic may not work. Many people will regard this as a request for citizens to do the government’s job for them; others might worry that similar tactics could be employed to disincentivise campaigning on behalf of all manner of causes.

And the anti-abortion protesters might decide that their actions are worth pursuing in any case. Since abortion services are now widely available in Ireland, the extra financial support for abortion advocacy groups might not seem much of a drawback.

In any case, there is a more general issue here, concerning how we ought to respond to speech that we find offensive or even hateful.

Some restrictions on freedom of speech are inevitable and perfectly justifiable, but these are mostly related to fairly direct correlations between speech and some specifiable harm (e.g., defamation or incitement to violence).

Other forms of speech which people may find objectionable, such as anti-abortion protests outside hospitals, pose a rather different challenge. It is dangerous to think that such speech can be legislated away.

A more useful approach is to ask what can be done without restricting anyone’s freedom to protest. I’ve outlined one suggestion; perhaps Broadsheet readers can improve on it?

Donnchadh Ó Conaill is a postdoctoral researcher in philosophy at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He is writing here in a personal capacity.

Last week: Pray Away

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris speaking to reporters yesterday; Pro-life protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin on January 1

Yesterday, it was suggested by Minister for Health Simon Harris that local authorities could be given powers to impose exclusion zones outside maternity hospitals preventing pro-life protests.

Further to this…

As someone who has carried a tiny white coffin out of Holles Street, I can attest to the anguish caused by the wilful insensitivity of the protesters who assembled there on New Year’s Day.

The lack of Christian kindness and basic human empathy displayed by these people reveals the truth of their oft-cited claims to “Love Both”.

While there is a right to peaceful protest, there is also a right to access legal healthcare without intimidation, and a right to provide care without being subjected to harassment.

Our Government must now act and legislate for safe access zones to protect medical staff and their patients from such interference.

Can we truly consider ourselves a secular democracy while the Vatican has a say in the ownership of our National Maternity Hospital and religious fundamentalists dominate the footpaths outside?

Bernie Linnane,
County Leitrim

Harris Mulls Abortion Safety Zones (Irish Examiner)

Abortion: Minister warns of exclusion zones after hospital protests (Irish Times)

Rollingnews/YouTube

This afternoon.

Dublin City Centre.

The organisers of the Rally for Life march in Dublin estimate that around 10,000 people are taking part in the event.

Pro-life campaigners have marched from the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square to the Customs House, where a rally is being held this afternoon.

Many of those taking part in today’s rally are calling for another referendum on abortion.

Thousands turn out at Rally for Life march in Dublin (RTÉ)

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

The lopsided vote suggests a veto could be easily overcome. Ivey spokeswoman Lori Jhons said in a statement after the vote that “the governor intends to withhold comment until she has had a chance to thoroughly review the final version of the bill that passed.”

Alabama Senate passes ban on abortion, with few exceptions (AP)

Meanwhile….

Ah.

Meanwhile

Close to one thousand people marched through Drogheda [yesterday] to protest at proposals to change the name of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

The hospital, which is one of the busiest acute hospitals in the country, was bought by the HSE from the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1997.

It is understood that staff were asked which of three other names it should be called: Drogheda University Hospital, Drogheda Regional Hospital or Drogheda General Hospital.

Hundreds march to protest name change of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (Independent.ie)

This afternoon.

Merrion Hotel, Dublin 2

A press conference for Nurses and Midwives 4 Life addressed by pro life independent TD Michael Healy Rae.

Above left Nurses and Midwives 4Life Vice ChairMargret McGovern, RGN, PRO Fiona McHugh, a clinical paediatric nurse specialist and Lecturer in Nursing Mary E. Fitzgibbon

The group claim 350 nurses and midwives on the NMBI Register have signed a petition asking the Minister for Health “to protect freedom of conscience in not forcing us to participate in abortions”.

Rollingnews

Meanwhile…

As the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 enters Report Stage, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has said the Bill needs significant amendment if it is to fulfil the promise of the Yes vote in the May referendum. Parliamentarians must take the criminal law out of medical consulting rooms and replace it with a provision guaranteeing access to abortion care.

IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan said: “This legislation needs to facilitate access to quality abortion care. But instead of supporting doctors to provide best practice care, the Bill criminalises abortion and leaves healthcare providers vulnerable to vexatious allegations by those who oppose abortion. These criminal sanctions are already having a chilling effect on doctors.”

Mr Behan continued: “Continued criminalisation means the threat of sanctions – including a possible 14-year prison sentence – will be hanging over doctors, affecting the care they provide to women and girls. And some may decide not to provide abortion care at all.”

The IFPA says there are multiple provisions in the Bill which serve only to act as barriers to abortion access.

Irish Family Planning Association

 

Nine TDs want to amend the bill to make it a criminal offence for a woman not to have a burial or a cremation after an abortion, including in cases where they had taken abortion pills prescribed by a GP at home.

The TDs who backed the proposal are: Mattie McGrath, Michael Lowry, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish and Carol Nolan.

TDs want women to have aborted foetuses buried (TEllen Coyne, The Times Ireland Edition)

Rollingnews

From top: (left to right) Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes campaign speaking in Galway; supporters of the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project, also in Galway; Ciaran Tierney

Ahead of the abortion referendum on Friday, May 25, 2018, Ciaran Tierney attended the launches of both the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns in Galway.

Ciaran writes:

Two meetings in the same city, but they felt like different worlds.

As campaigning begins in earnest ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum on May 25, the battle lines were drawn recently when both sides of the debate launched their respective campaigns at a series of regional events and rallies throughout the country.

Two very different events took place in Galway within 48 hours of each other which underlined the strong feelings in both camps and the intense battle expected to win the hearts and minds of undecided voters over the next seven weeks of canvassing.

Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and the legislation, known as the Eighth Amendment, which acknowledges the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child was passed by referendum after a bitter, divisive debate in 1983.

Most of those who will vote on the issue next month would not have been around or entitled to vote 35 years ago.

It was notable at the launch of the ‘Together For Yes’ campaign in Galway that many young women in their 20s and 30s were hugely engaged in a political issue for the first time.

Young women made up the majority of the 200-strong attendance at the Harbour Hotel in Galway city centre where a range of seekers called for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in order to legalise abortion in Ireland for the first time.

For Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes, the key issue is to show people that abortion already is a reality in Ireland, but that women are being forced to travel to the UK or Europe for terminations or take illegal pills in secret at home.

Although canvassing had only just begun, she said that those who were in favour of change were receiving a very positive reception at the doorsteps.

“A really important part of our campaign is making sure that people know that women are already travelling to the UK every day or taking abortion pills at home, in secret, but they feel they cannot go to a doctor. It’s already a reality here,” she said.

“Our experience being out leafleting or canvassing is that a lot of people have changed their minds on this issue. People have seen that the Eighth Amendment did not work. It did not stop people from having abortions overseas and it also had devastating consequences when we think of, for example, the death of Savita Halappanavar here in Galway.”

Six years ago, Savita’s death at University Hospital Galway (UHG) made headlines all across the world and galvanised activists in the West of Ireland to seek a change in the law.

The young Indian dentist is remembered at a candlelight vigil in the city on her anniversary every year.

Savita (31) died from blood poisoning at UHG after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy. When the distressed young woman requested a termination in the hospital, she was told: “This is a Catholic country.”

She had presented to the hospital with back pain in October 2012, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. The resultant outpouring of anger revived Ireland’s abortion debate.

“It’s important for us to make sure that people come out to vote. Our feeling is that people want change. This is affecting thousands of women each year and people have changed their minds about this issue. They see that this is necessary. We are confident, but we are not complacent,” said Ms O’Connor.

“We can see that this is an issue which has really captured young women, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. It affects men, it affects couples. It’s about making sure there is proper health care here in Ireland and about making sure that people don’t have to go through the trauma of having to travel.”

She said that the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage via a popular vote, showed how much Irish society had changed over the past 35 years.

Ms O’Connor said that the issue had galvanised young Irish people abroad so much that many were planning to fly home just to vote on May 25.

Less than 48 hours after the Together for Yes launch, the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project came together for a rally to mobilise support for a ‘no’ vote at the Leisureland conference hall across the city in Salthill.

Bus-loads of supporters from throughout the West of Ireland attended the event. It was notable that there were far more elderly people and families with young children in attendance at the ‘Stand Up for Life’ event.

There was also far more merchandise on show in the vast hall, including graphic images, posters, and sweatshirts, calling on people to vote no on May 25.

During an extremely well-choreographed event, everyone was asked to move to the front of the hall to take a large group photo to mark the launch of the ‘Vote No’ campaign in the West of Ireland.

There is a widespread perception out there that there is far more financial backing available to those who oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment, including funds from the United States, and this was very much in evidence at Leisureland.

One of the organisers, Katie Ascough, defined next month’s referendum as an “absolutely defining moment” in Irish history.

“I want you to think about the thousands of lives that will be protected when we win this referendum,” she said, to a huge round of applause. “There won’t be any second chances to save the Eighth Amendment. We must stand united.”

Another speaker, Bernadette Goulding, claimed the Irish Government had “awakened a sleeping giant” by attempting to repeal the country’s abortion ban.

“Women don’t talk about abortions, it doesn’t lend itself to conversation,” said Ms Goulding, who runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for women who have experienced painful post-abortion emotions.

“Those who are pro-abortion don’t acknowledge the grief women experience after having an abortion,” she claimed. “No country is perfect but we all need to be proud of Ireland’s abortion laws.

“Those who are ‘pro-choice’ believe that ‘pro-life’ people only care about the baby, but ‘pro-life’ people care about the mother and the baby. Many people are alive today because of the Eighth Amendment.”

She claimed that the birth of a child “heals the effect of rape” and called on people to stop rape from happening rather than kill an unborn child.

One of the organisers of the launch, Eilis Mulroy of Galway for Life, said anti-abortion campaigners were incredibly encouraged by the huge number of people who were enthusiastic about protecting Ireland’s ban on abortion.

“We want to encourage people to get out and canvass, to tell their families, their friends, their neighbours about the preciousness of the Eighth Amendment, to explain to them how many lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment. There are people in this hall tonight who are alive because of the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

“Certainly, Ireland has changed since the 1980s, and there’s a lot of positive change, but not on this topic. I’m very encouraged that recent opinion polls have shown there is no majority in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. If you look at the numbers here tonight, you couldn’t but be confident about a ‘no’ vote on ballot day.”

Ms Mulroy said it was too easy to “stereotype” people, but it was clear from the huge gathering in the hall that a huge cross-section of Irish society was concerned by the prospect of having legalised abortion.

“I know many people who have been through an abortion and, for many of them, it wasn’t their own choice. It was the people around them. The challenge for us is to be the type of society that supports women,” she said.

“Our view is that people should get online and inform themselves. People should inform themselves of what’s involved in this legislation, unrestricted abortion, which is a horrendous proposal of ‘social’ abortion.”

When it was put to her that many people would have a difficulty with the term ‘social’ abortion, given the trauma involved, she said that every abortion was a tragedy and claimed that one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in a termination.

“Once you introduce a liberal or unrestricted regime, it becomes socially acceptable in the same way as the smoking ban. You can probably remember being able to smoke on an airplane, but now it’s socially not acceptable, because laws change behaviour. If you say that some people have less of a right to live than others, of course it’s going to make an impact,” she said.

“This proposal is for unrestricted abortion up to eight weeks. I think it’s really important that people are straight and that the facts are out there. We would encourage everyone to be respectful of each other. It’s important that the science and the truth about ‘abortion culture’ and how it harms babies needs to be articulated, and given fair treatment in the media debates.”

An intense period of campaigning is now underway to win over undecided voters ahead of the referendum on May 25.

Ultimately, the real-life testimonies of women across Ireland could be pivotal in terms of deciding the outcome of the vote.

Arlette Lyons of a group called Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) spoke of her personal trauma when she was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being diagnosed with a case of fatal foetal abnormality six years ago.

“We were expecting our third baby when we found out she had a fatal condition at 12 weeks,” said Ms Lyons. “I expected something to be done there and then, but I was told that there was nothing that could be done for me and my family here in Ireland.

“To be given the news that my baby was going to die and then to be told that the only options were to go to the UK or to go full term, I actually thought I was the only one this had ever happened to. The staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital were so understanding, they had seen Irish couples in this situation so many times.

“I travelled back home by boat, because I could not face the ‘plane. I did not want to fly after having my termination. I felt travelling by boat was less public. When I got back to Ireland, an anger just came over me. That’s why I just went public. It was unjust, what happened to me. Since then, I came together with other women to form TFMR and at least 400 families have been in contact over the past six years.

“The only way women and couples with fatal foetal abnormalities can receive the help they need is to repeal the Eighth Amendment. My story could be anybody’s story, even though I hope it does not happen to anyone else. We need to stop punishing tragedy.”

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Rallying the troops for a divisive campaign (Ciaran Tierney)