The stakes have never been higher when it comes to Ireland’s abortion debate. Media outlets constantly tell us that the battle lines have been drawn between the pro-life and pro-choice camps. In some ways they’re right – a Citizens’ Assembly is currently underway to look at proposals for holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the equal right to life of mother and baby. Of course, when it comes to a life and death struggle like abortion, the battle lines are always there, whether we are aware of them or not.
Obviously, the highest stakes of all involve the lives of unborn children. But there are other considerations too, like the reputation of the Irish media, and even democracy itself.
The Eighth Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution in 1983. Since that time it has been responsible for saving at least 100,000 lives (according to an independent actuarial report commissioned by the Pro Life Campaign). This makes the provision something spectacular. It’s that rare thing: a law that can definitively be described as “life-saving”. Instead of attacking it, we should be applauding those who had the foresight to work for its inclusion at a time when there were no 4D scans that showed the awesome beauty of the child in the womb. It is truly a beacon of human rights protection.
Unfortunately, beacons are also targets, and Ireland remains a real thorn in the side of the international abortion movement, not least because no commentator has been able to show that abortion is needed to save women’s lives. The vocal minority in Ireland pushing for repeal is assisted in its efforts by foreign interest groups. It receives funding from the Open Society Foundation, owned by US billionaire George Soros, and benefits from regular condemnations of Ireland’s pro-life laws from the UN Human Rights Committee and the Irish branch of Amnesty International.
And then there’s the fact that the mainstream media downplays or even ignores anything that doesn’t suit a pro-choice narrative. For example, the videos released by David Daleiden on practices at Planned Parenthood clinics were not covered in any real way by the media in Ireland. The public is kept in an information bubble where only some facts are deemed appropriate to release. When a woman from Ireland bled to death in the back of a taxi after having an abortion in a Marie Stopes clinic in London, her death did not warrant any level of reporting. There was no attempt to take the opportunity to question the myth of that infamous phrase, “free, safe and legal” abortion.
Given these challenges, it would be easy for pro-life supporters to become despondent, but happily, nothing could be further from the truth. There are a few reasons why this is the case.
First, they know how high the stakes are. Abortion is a life-and-death struggle, and for many people involved that 100,000 figure mentioned earlier translates to a grandchild who is starting school, or a niece learning to ride a bike, or a sibling making plans for college – a treasured family member who is alive thanks to a culture that did not allow abortion to be introduced and normalised.
Second, they know that the vast majority of people in Ireland don’t want to see abortion on demand introduced and that is the only logical outcome of repealing the Eighth Amendment. There is no such thing as “restrictive abortion” and some pro-choice campaigners even admit this when pressed.
There are many ways in which we can level the playing field, and social media will be vital. We’ve already seen in many different debates how it can leapfrog mainstream outlets to reach a wider audience. It is easier now than ever to spread awareness of the pro-life message or aspects of the debate that are being ignored by the mainstream media. Facebook pages and YouTube videos will be particularly useful in this regard. In other ways, too, the challenges presented by the media and powerful lobby groups are being met. The pro-life movement has always been led by the grass roots. The Eighth Amendment itself arose not out of any lobby group but by popular demand from small local groups dedicated to a common purpose: the protection of the rights of all human beings in Ireland in the most appropriate document, the Irish Constitution.
This week, the Pro Life Campaign is launching the Love Both Project, a new initiative which is in response to the many people who get in touch with heartrending stories that they say are being ignored by a biased mainstream media. Through social media, grassroots campaigning and other types of innovative communication, the Love Both Project will provide a platform for their stories to be told for the first time.
There is so much to be hopeful about in the Irish pro-life movement. Over the next few months, the Love Both Project will be a real game-changer, channelling that hope and providing a platform for discussing all that is great about the life-saving Eighth Amendment.
Cora Sherlock is a solicitor and the spokeswoman for the Pro Life Campaign (prolifecampaign.ie)
This article first appeared in the December 2 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here