Ireland’s fight to Save the 8th

Next year, Ireland faces into a divisive referendum on abortion as the government seeks to repeal the right to life of preborn children which is enshrined in Article 8th of the Constitution – a provision which has long been a light to the world in protecting both mothers and preborn babies. Pro-life activists say they face a David versus Goliath battle as international funding and what they describe as “overwhelming media bias” drives the campaign to repeal the 8th.

However, they also point to the tremendous people-powered initiatives to Save the 8th which is already showing a real effect with public opinion. These efforts, almost entirely volunteer-driven, are bypassing media bias to reach out to the Irish people to explain why abortion is not the answer.

One such initiative is the Life Canvass, a national door-to-door campaign which aims to have a personal conversation with the nation on abortion. It has been training and mobilising volunteers for two years now, and the efforts have led to the biggest pro-life grassroots initiative ever seen in Ireland.

“Last month we had our National Life Canvass Day where more than 600 people were out in 51 teams right across all the political constituencies and reached more than 15,000 people,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute. “It was tremendous, but what’s even more significant is that these teams are out all the time, and have been for a long time, so their reach and insight into the mind of the electorate is really substantial ”.

She said that 700,000 homes had been prioritised for the Life Canvass, and that the canvass volunteers would reach another 500,000 in the next six months as the campaign accelerated. “We have people on the canvass who have powerful personal stories, and who are making these personal connections with voters in a way that is really meaningful and effective,” said the Life Institute spokeswoman. “It’s game-changing and by far the most powerful way to bypass the media and talk to people, answer their questions, and explain why Ireland can do better than abortion for mothers and babies.”

“Most of the major pro-life groups, Life Institute, Youth Defence, Family & Life and 30 local pro-life organisations are now united in the Canvass which is wonderful,” she said.

“There is no better campaign alternative in terms of changing hearts and mind than powerful one-to-one personal conversations on the doorsteps.”

Social media is also expected to play a major role in the Save the 8th campaign, and Irish pro-life groups have had considerable success with messaging on this platform. Video messaging has proved especially effective, enjoying strong organic growth and making a clear impact. “We see videos like ‘Repeal Kills’ from Youth Defence get huge organic growth with hundreds of thousands of views in total, and its message really makes people question the reality behind the bland ‘repeal the 8th’ slogan,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain. “Likewise, ‘Humanity’ which was the first pro-life message to get more than 1 million views in Ireland, makes the powerful point that since the humanity of the preborn child, cannot be denied, we cannot deny them their human right to life.”

The Life Institute spokeswoman said that campaigns were precluded from booking broadcast adverts in Ireland, which meant that the electorate were previously exposed to a “non-stop diet” of pro-abortion propaganda from the Irish media. “Social media has changed all that, bringing the message directly to people’s screens via their phones or PCs and it’s been hugely important for the pro-life movement in Ireland,” she said.

Ms Uí Bhrian said that the pro-life groups involved in the Save the 8th campaign had strong creative teams which understood how to speak to hearts and minds on the issue.

“In the referendum campaign to Save the 8th it’ll be about delivering the right message to the right people to ensure Ireland’s pro-life laws are not repealed, and social media is key to that delivery,” she said. “It’s really opened up the channels of delivery which were previously closed or very hostile to the uncontroversial message that abortion kills babies and hurts women.”

In October, Life Institute used Facebook’s Live Feed to broadcast a powerful interview with women impacted by pregnancy after rape, in a first for Ireland. More than 30,000 people have now watched the interview and the campaigners say that the Facebook tool enables TV-style broadcasting for the campaign ahead. “It’s a very interesting avenue and one that we think will prove very effective in the Save the 8th initiative,” Niamh Uí Bhriain told the Catholic Universe.

The women taking part in the live interview were in Ireland as guests of Unbroken, a forum which seeks to give a voice to women impacted from pregnancy after rape, voices which are rarely heard in the debate on abortion.

Organisers said that that “inspiring courage and strength of rape survivors shone a light on what it really means to protect women and children. These women explained that support and love what was brought healing after such trauma and they also spelled out that ‘my child is innocent too – we should punish rapists, not babies’”

The effect in the Irish debate was real and powerful: amongst the many media articles, a piece in Trinity News summed up the impact these women made, positing that “they force those of us who are pro-choice to reconsider our position and engage with a valuable new perspective on the entire debate.”

Five women spoke publicly as part of the Unbroken Ireland tour, and their effect was game-changing: the debate on abortion and the 8th amendment so often wrongly assumes that abortion is the only answer after rape, but now the experiences of women were actually being heard.

 

Niamh Uí Bhriain said that powerful personal stories were crucial to a deeper understanding of what legalising abortion would mean for Irish culture. “The Unbroken Ireland tour broke the silence around that issue, and in doing so made a great crack in the misconceptions around pregnancy from rape – a crack through which, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the light can now get in.”

“We see too that with organisations like Every Life Counts, families whose babies had severe disabilities began to be heard, and they demolished this notion that their babies were a ‘fatal abnormality’ or that a disability could diminish a baby’s right to life,” she said.

Recent opinion polls have shown that Irish public opinion is becoming increasingly pro-life in regard to protecting preborn children with a disability. There has been a significant fall in support for abortion on disability grounds, with a considerable majority now supporting the right to life of preborn children with disability according to recent Irish Times poll.

The Life Institute said that this was entirely due to the great courage shown by people with disabilities and their families who have been speaking out to say that every child has a right to life, whatever disability they may have. “Their inspirational personal stories have clearly struck a chord with the public, as has their message that abortion is the very worst form of discrimination,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain.

“Jennifer Christie of Unbroken spelled out a key challenge for Ireland when considering any harrowing or difficult circumstance in pregnancy: ‘Love them louder,’ she continued. ‘Love them louder. Because only love can defeat hate. Only love can light up the darkness.’ That was a remarkable challenge and one Ireland should try to live up rather than legalising abortion.”

Ireland is at a crossroads, where its people will now decide whether to legalise abortion or to continue to protect the right to life of mother and baby.

The pro-life movement is clearly active and motivated with a massive 80,000 people attending the Rally for Life in July organised by Life Institute, Youth Defence and Precious Life.

Harnessing the energy from those activists will be key to winning the referendum battle that lies ahead, but Niamh Uí Bhriain says the commitment, compassion and vision of the pro-life volunteers gives them the edge. “Every decent person will acknowledge that abortion is not a good thing, and no person of goodwill wants more abortions to take place. The most compassionate and progressive thing Ireland can do now is to continue to protect and support both mother and child, and show the world a better answer than abortion. Thousands of pro-life volunteers will work night and day to carry that message to the Irish people, and I believe their commitment and their desire to save lives will prevail,” she said.

The referendum on abortion is expected to take place in May 2018.

 

 

 

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