TORONTO—Two Canadian women who took part in an extended speaking tour of Ireland have returned to Toronto with a renewed commitment to pro-life activism.

Emma Maan, 21, of Georgetown, northwest of Toronto, and Ada Wong, 19, are members of Ontario Students for Life (OSFL), an organization of secondary and university students working to promote a pro-life attitude among their peers.

The pair toured Ireland between April 1-June 30 to bring a North American view of the pro-life struggle to Irish students and established right-to-life organizations. They also represented Canada at an international youth pro-life conference in Dublin June 20-21. In total, Maan and Wong spoke to about 1,400 people in five Irish counties.

“It was refreshing to visit a country where abortion and contraception have not yet made the inroads that they have made in North America,” Maan told the Register. “In my talks to Canadian students, most are no longer bothered by abortion, but the Irish young people seemed genuinely shocked when they learned its true nature,” Maan said.

In their addresses to Irish pro-life and student groups, Maan and Wong discussed fetal development, abortion's destruction of human life, and the tactics abortion advocates have used to have abortion legalized in North America. They warned their Irish audiences that there are elements now working in Ireland for wider acceptance of abortion and contraception.

The abortion struggle has been especially heated in Ireland since 1992, when the Supreme Court upheld the official prohibition of abortion in the country, but allowed citizens to go abroad to obtain the procedure. Ireland is now preparing a “Green Paper” or discussion document, to determine the public mood on the abortion issue. Part of the Green Paper is devoted to the wording of a proposed referendum on loosening the country's restrictive abortion law. According to Mann, more than 2,500 groups have now offered input into the government document.

Irish pro-life forces, including the Youth Defense organization, have hinted that the government may seek to bypass the referendum plan and introduce new legislation permitting wider access to abortion. This despite polls showing that up to 65% of Irish citizens favor the referendum route.

Irish pro-life groups also believe the wording of the proposed referendum is crucial in determining residents' true feelings on the right to life issue. In its submission to the government Green Paper, Youth Defense called for extreme caution in determining the wording of any proposed referendum on abortion.

“It cannot be stressed too strongly that any wording for the referendum which falls short of a complete prohibition of abortion is one which will be wholeheartedly be opposed by Youth Defense and, indeed, by all pro-life organizations of any standing.”

The group accused pro-abortion elements in Ireland of muddying the waters and creating confusion on the issue in an effort to bring legal abortion to an unwilling nation.

“The great weapon of pro-abortion-ists in this country, as well as in every other country where abortion has been legalized, is confusion,” say officials with Youth Defense. “Confusion in the general public as to the facts of abortion, confusion in government as to the consequences of legalized abortion, and a deliberately fueled confusion as to the best legal method of protecting unborn children.”

Maan and Wong said confusion and deception were key components of pro-abortion groups in bringing legal abortion to North America. The pair agreed that while Ireland is well ahead of the United States and Canada in terms of protecting the unborn child, there are danger signs on the horizon. They spoke of a distinct bias against right to life interests on the part of Ireland's mainstream media.

“I tried to impress the Irish young people with how lucky they are to be in a country that still offers some basic protection to the unborn child,” Maan said, “but it is sad to see the direction they are going.” She cited the growing availability of contraceptive counseling in the country, as well as the govern-ment's tolerance of controversial bioethics practices, including embryo freezing.

For Ada Wong, the lessons learned from the Irish experience center on the need for continued vigilance and activism.

“Seeing Youth Defense and other pro-life groups at work in Ireland helped me to appreciate the importance of a more direct commitment to the struggle,” Wong said.

She hopes to impart that observation to her colleagues in the Ontario Students for Life organization.

Maan and Wong said the Youth Defense organization holds some lessons for North American student pro-life groups. The pair was impressed with the organization's commitment and determination in the face of continued police harassment and scorn from the mainstream Irish media.

Despite these obstacles, the Youth Defense group is making a difference, Maan said. She cited recent media reports that Irish pro-life efforts have persuaded some politicians to back down from their promotion of abortion and contraception.

Justin Barrett, an official with Youth Defense, told The Irish Times that there are fewer pro-abortion politicians in the country today than there were 10 years ago, thanks largely to the Youth Defense efforts to highlight the abortion issue. At the same time, the pro-life outlook in the country continues to deteriorate.

“There will never be an easier time to stop abortion in Ireland than there is to stop it today,” Barrett told The Times. “But it would be foolish to think the situation with regard to abortion in the Republic is anything less than dreadful.”

Barrett echoed Maan's claim that the Irish media is attempting to undermine the work of the country's pro-life forces with insinuations of violence and extremism. Some Irish pro-abortion supporters have also sought to weaken pro-life work by suggesting it is unduly influenced by U.S. based organizations, such as Human Life International.

“The law is quicker now to arrest people who defend the right of the unborn child than it is to pursue those who perform illegal abortion,” Barrett said, adding that despite the sometimes unpleasant aspect of street demonstrations, they are necessary in turning hearts and minds around on the abortion issue.

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto, Canada.