DUBLIN - An estimated 10,000 Irish pro-life advocates attended the first major pro-life rally and march in Ireland since the country implemented permissive abortion legislation, with speakers emphasizing their determination to continue working to restore legal protections for unborn children.
The July 6 march began at Dublin’s Parnell Square and ended at the Customs House, where the All-Ireland Rally for Life took place.
“The theme of the Rally was a call to ‘Stand For Life,’ because no vote, no piece of legislation, no referendum can ever make abortion right,” the rally organizing committee said July 6. “We were delighted to see people of all ages and all walks of life respond to that call.”
The event was organized by Life Institute, Precious Life and Youth Defence with the support of over 30 local pro-life groups.
The Republic of Ireland’s constitution was amended in a 1983 national referendum to add a pro-life provision, the Eighth Amendment, recognizing the right to life of the unborn baby as equal to the mother’s right to life. Close to 67% of Irish voters approved the amendment.
In a May 25, 2018 referendum, over 66% of Irish voters repealed these protections. Irish legislators then enacted legislation allowing legal abortion in what had long been a Catholic and pro-life stronghold.
Niamh Uí Bhriain, a spokeswoman for the Life Institute, told the July 6 rally that pro-life activists “will overturn what happened last May,” adding “we may have lost the Eighth referendum, but we are not defeated,” the state broadcaster RTE News reports.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, told media at the rally he wanted to “stand in solidarity” with those who believe that pregnancy means dealing with two lives: “the life of a mother and her unborn child – and both in need of love, respect and protection.”
“I march today because I believe it remains as important as ever to affirm the sanctity of all human life. The direct and intentional taking of the life of any innocent human being is always gravely wrong – we must avoid becoming desensitized to the value of every human life,” said Archbishop Martin, according to EWTN Ireland.
He called for more help for vulnerable women, for mothers and fathers who are in crisis, and for “parents who feel that they have made the wrong choice in having an abortion.”
The Republic of Ireland’s laws now permit abortions to be performed by general practitioners through nine weeks of pregnancy. Hospitals are allowed to perform abortions through 12 weeks.
After 12 weeks, abortions may be performed in “exceptional circumstances.” Most abortions will be performed free of charge to women, with the state covering costs. Minors may secure abortions without parental permission.
Doctors who object to abortions must refer women to doctors who will perform them.
In Ui Bhriain’s view, Irish voters might be having second thoughts.
“Many reluctant ‘yes’ voters are appalled to see that they were not told the truth in the referendum, and that the number of abortions is expected to treble to 10,000 per year,” she said in a statement. “That’s why one of the most important tasks ahead of the pro-life movement is to subject this abortion regime to endless scrutiny, and to keep the path lit until we can repeal the 36th [Amendment].”
She suggested that cultural change, demographic change and falling birthrates could mean “the future belongs to those who do not abort their children, but who welcome and cherish every child. Change may come sooner than we imagine.”
Political leaders also spoke at the rally.
Carol Nolan, a deputy to the Dáil from County Offaly, said politicians “do not represent the views of many of us here today nor do they want to.”
Nolan resigned from the Sinn Féin political party in 2018 because of its pro-abortion rights stance. She said she would like to see more pro-life women in the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish parliament.
Also at the rally was Peadar Toibin, a deputy to the Dáil from County Meath who was suspended from Sinn Fein twice for breaking with the party platform on legalized abortion. He resigned from his former party and then launched the Aontú party earlier this year. He planned to launch the party in part to provide a voice to the 34% of Irish voters who opposed repeal and to ensure they are not marginalized, he told reporters in November 2018.
Toibin has helped to publicize the cause of parents who say they aborted following doctors’ advice that the baby had a fatal abnormality—but after the abortion tests showed the baby was healthy, the Irish Catholic reports. The family has said the abortion might have been illegal because a second doctor did not examine the pregnant woman.
Medical professionals also spoke against the abortion law at the rally.
Dr. Trevor Hayes, a consultant obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny, is among three consultant colleagues at the hospital who have told management they would not perform abortions at the hospital.
He told the rally that abortion is “a procedure that helps no one and takes the life of the child,” the Irish news site Kilkenny Now reports.
“Abortion is not life-saving, it’s life-ending. It’s not health care, and no amount of spin can make it health care,” he said.
Like many rally attendees, he was critical of Minister for Health Simon Harris. Hayes charged that he is “obsessing with abortion” and is “trying to bully good men and women to get involved in their abortion against their conscience.”
Continued pressure to back abortion would force doctors, nurses and other medical professionals out of medicine and add to “the staffing crisis already crippling the health service,” Hayes predicted.
Northern Ireland’s law against abortion is now in the crosshairs of abortion advocates. As soon as the Irish referendum succeeded, their cry was “The North is Next.”
This led to the pro-life rejoinder “The North Protects.”
The political division of Ireland means that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. However, powers to legislate on abortion are devolved to the local parliament in Stormont.
The Northern Ireland government fell amid political controversy in January 2017 and there has not been a sitting executive since.
Traditionally Protestant and unionist political leaders are defending the Northern Ireland abortion law, while the traditionally Catholic and nationalist political parties have begun to argue that U.K. abortion law should trump Northern Ireland law.
Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life in Northern Ireland addressed this push to legalize abortion, saying: “This latest threat must be met with massive opposition not only from the people of Northern Ireland but from the Church leaders and all the main parties. This push from Westminster to change the law on abortion in the North is disgraceful and undemocratic, and undermines the spirit of devolution.”