The visit of a Dutch abortion ship to Ireland generated more interest abroad than it did in Ireland.
The day the boat arrived, June 14, the country was crawling with news teams from Holland, Germany, Britain, America and Canada.
What in the world were they expecting? Violence? Mass protests? Outbreaks of fanatical pro-life lunacy? When such high drama failed to materialize, the coverage became the event.
By lunchtime the next day there were still dozens of reporters, cameramen and photographers crowded around the dock. By this stage the women on the ship claimed to have received bomb threats. The upshot? A police boat was patrolling the river nearby and police were checking cars approaching the ship by road. This did make for good TV even if it was out of all proportion to the scale of the threat.
This morsel aside, the foreign crews were clearly starved of good material. They would speak to anyone, simply anyone, who would provide them with something to send back home and justify the trip. If ever someone wanted to grab the attention of the world's media this would have been their chance. The moment was seized by the Pro-Life Campaign, which presented the foreign journalists and networks with attractive and articulate young women who calmly ridiculed the abortion ship and set out their pro-life arguments reasonably and well.
Not all of the networks were happy with this. The women just didn't fit in with the pro-life stereotype. One crew from Canada asked the Pro-Life Campaign if they could recommend someone who was more “passionate” (read fanatical) than the pro-lifers they were being presented with. They also said they would rather a man than a woman. One wonders why?
It's impossible to know how many of the foreign networks ran the interviews, but, if they did, then paradoxically the abortion ship may have done the pro-life cause abroad, if not in Ireland, more good than harm.
How often do Dutch or German people get to see the pro-life argument articulated by attractive, modern young women? In those countries the pro-life argument has been reduced to a straw man, one that's easy to demolish.
In coming to Ireland and attracting all those foreign reporters, the abortion ship inadvertently allowed Irish pro-lifers into the living rooms of their countries — countries where the culture of death is almost unchallenged. God really does write straight with crooked lines.
At home it's hard to know whether the abortion ship also did more good than harm. It did attract some attention, and it was discussed on radio programs. Yet it met with almost no political response. None of our politicians seemed terribly worried that a Dutch ship intended to dock in Irish ports, take Irish women out to international waters, abort their unborn children and then drop them back home again in time for supper.
That does show a change in attitudes toward abortion in Ireland. The fact that we were so calm about it probably further illustrates the change. One presumes that, had a ship arrived promising to kill newborns if their mothers so wished, there would have been rather more fuss.
The Dutch-based Women on Waves is the organization behind the abortion ship. Its ostensible purpose is to protect women from unsafe abortions — presumably meaning “back-alley” abortions — in countries where abortion is against the law.
However, since no Irish women die as a result of the ban on abortion in this country (direct abortion is never needed to save a woman's life), the boat was entirely superfluous to requirements even on its own terms.
In addition, what woman was ever going to run the media gauntlet in order to sail 12 miles from shore, board the ship with the world looking on and have an abortion performed in a sterile steel container on the deck?
In fact, what organization claiming to be concerned about the welfare of women would want to perform an abortion under such conditions? The ship's “operating room” is entirely dehumanizing.
There was never going to be an abortion performed on this ship. Quite apart from anything else, it lacks the license to do so under Dutch law. It was in Ireland purely in order to attract publicity and advance the abortion cause. In my opinion it backfired. Articulate pro-lifers had a chance to make their case in countries where a decent pro-life argument is rarely heard.
By the second day of its stay, even the international media had grown impatient. They decided they had been brought to Ireland under false pretenses.
Since there never was going to be an abortion, there were never going to be the protests they anticipated. Hence there was not much of a story to cover.
If there is one sure way to annoy a journalist, it is to drag him half way across the world and then deprive him of his story. In doing so, Women on Waves have hopefully ensured that they will never again attract the sort of publicity that they did on this occasion.
That's a pleasurable thought on one level. But, on another, strangely, it is unfortunate, since Women on Waves gave their pro-lifers adversaries such a gilt-edged opportunity to put their case to the world. A bit more of that and a real dent could be put in the culture of death.
David Quinn is editor of The Irish Catholic in Dublin.