By Charles C. Camosy, Crux
[Editor’s Note: Niamh Uí Bhriain is the founder of Youth Defence, one of the most important Irish pro-life groups, and was the chair of the #savethe8th campaign to protect the Irish Constitution’s pro-life 8th Amendment in a national referendum held on May 25. The pro-life cause suffered a stinging defeat when 2 out of 3 Irish voters chose to repeal the amendment, and allow legal abortion in Ireland. Uí Bhriain spoke to Charles Camosy about the aftermath of the referendum, and the future of the pro-life movement in Ireland.]
Camosy: How are you feeling? How is the Irish pro-life movement handling things?
Uí Bhriain: The referendum result was a wound to the soul, perhaps the darkest day in Ireland’s history. An unspeakable cruelty will now be inflicted on the most innocent of all our people, on our preborn children. Worst of all, two thirds of the Irish people are now complicit in this cruelty. It bears their stamp: every abortion is one they voted for, even though many of those votes were won by a relentless campaign of misinformation and deceit.
We have lost something precious and beautiful and, to be honest, we are all broken-hearted. It feels like an unexpected and traumatic death, because that’s what it was, the death of decency and kindness and compassion in a culture that had stood strong for so long against the abortion industry.
But we will fight on, because no referendum, no popular vote can ever make abortion right. We must also keep the path lit so that, together with the next generation, we can rebuild the culture.
Thousands of pro-life activists dedicated two years and more of their lives to fighting the good fight. This was a tremendous grassroots effort, attracting support from every section of society, and they did everything within their power to protect mothers and babies.
The NO campaign fought harder and smarter, but they were opposed not only by the political establishment and NGOs in receipt of millions of foreign funding, but by the entire mainstream media establishment. However, their conscience is clear, and they should hold their heads up high and take pride in their heroic efforts. That surge of pro-life volunteers will bring crucial insight and ideas to the movement as we reflect, plan, pray, and rebuild the culture.
This country has lost something beautiful and precious; but, we did not lose on May 25, the preborn child did. They lost their right to life because so many voters were cowed and bullied and deceived –but we will always be their voice. We must speak up to protect mothers and babies, because if we do not speak for them no one will.
Venerable Fulton Sheen said “Moral principles do not depend on a majority vote. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong. Right is right, even if nobody is right.”
Camosy: Lots of people have speculated about not only the reasons for the result itself, but also its overwhelming margin, which seems to have surprised people on all sides of the issue. As someone who was as close to the situation as anyone, what’s your theory of the case? What do you think happened?
Uí Bhriain: Firstly, the media had convinced people of the lie that the 8th amendment was killing women. Voters said that they had changed their minds on the abortion issue, not during the campaign, but five years previously – precisely the time when they were repeatedly told by the media that Savita Halappanavar died because of the 8th Amendment, despite three independent inquiries finding that she died of sepsis which went untreated because of medical negligence.
[Halappanavar died in 2012 during a days-long miscarriage and had at one point requested an abortion. The medical team failed to diagnosis the sepsis until later into the miscarriage. The case was a major talking point during the referendum campaign. – Editor]
The exit polls showed that many people voted against the 8th because they had been fed an endless claim that it was killing or seriously harming women – a claim that the Health Minister and an Taoiseach (the term used for the Irish Prime Minister) repeated throughout the campaign.
Women were told – repeatedly – that they would be denied treatment for cancer and other conditions in pregnancy under the 8th, even though that was not the case. Pro-abortion doctors were given endless airtime to spread fear and misinformation, while pro-life doctors received far less time and were constantly challenged, even when they pointed to rock-solid facts such as Ireland’s very low maternal mortality rates. Emotion, as we have so often seen, trumps facts and logic every time.
Perhaps the greatest irony in this tragic result is that official statistics show that Ireland, without abortion, was one of the safest places in the world to be pregnant, yet abortion has been legalized here because media managed to convince the people of a lie around the death of a pregnant woman from sepsis.
Secondly, voters were also persuaded by the media’s focus on the ‘hard cases’ and they were repeatedly told that there was “no other way” to help women in the most difficult circumstances – such as in pregnancy after rape, or when the baby had a life-limiting condition (always referred to as a ‘fatal abnormality’ by the media). Many people voted against the 8th on that basis and closed their eyes to the inevitable consequences of what would follow.
Finally, there has been an undeniable culture shift amongst some voters, and there are now also greater numbers of people (still a minority of the electorate but more than previously existed) who think abortion should be legal for any reason at all.
This culture shift towards a more extreme and callous position was boosted in part by anger at the Church but also by other factors and was expressed in a swing in favor of legalized abortion, particularly amongst younger voters and female voters.
Camosy: What should we be looking for next? What about Northern Ireland-can they hold out against the pressure to change their pro-life laws?
Uí Bhriain: Northern Ireland is now under ferocious attack, but more politicians are openly pro-life and willing to defend the right to life in that jurisdiction.
In the South, the government has already laid out its legislation and it is appalling: abortion for any reason in the first 12 weeks of the baby’s life, and for many reasons after that.
Babies with severe disabilities are targeted for late-term abortion, and Simon Harris is trying to force doctors to refer for abortion, denying the right to conscientious objection.
We will fight on, especially in the short term to expose the reality of what the legislation proposes, and to seek amendments. Women in crisis need support and assistance. An alternative media must be established. The liberal-left’s stranglehold on Irish politics needs to be challenged.
There is a lot of work to be done.