Lord, Save Us From the Purists

Ireland is on the verge of making abortion legal in some circumstances and the fault can be laid directly on the doorstep of a tiny handful of misguided pro-lifers ten years ago.

Ireland is vitally important to the international pro-life movement. Ireland remains one of the few nations in the world where abortion is illegal. At the same time, Ireland has one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the world, according to the United Nations.

This combination of pro-life laws and low maternal mortality demonstrates the false notion of pro-abortion advocates that pregnant mothers need abortion in order to stay alive. This remains one of their final arguments after all the rest have fallen by the wayside these past decades.

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What pregnant women need to survive pregnancy—indeed what we discovered many years ago in the United States—is basic medical and health care. Ireland has this and at the same time protects the unborn child from abortion.

Ireland has been in the crosshairs of big-abortion for years. Almost annually, pro-abortion meddlers ensconced at the UN and other bodies scold Ireland for her restrictive laws on abortion. UN treaty monitoring bodies regularly tell Ireland to liberalize her abortion laws. Even abortion-friendly Irish governments have to tell the UN that the Irish people have spoken regularly that they are against abortion.  Indeed, there have been five national referenda on this topic in the past 30 years.

The last national referendum happened in 2002 that would have put unambiguous protection for unborn children in the Irish Constitution. The referendum would have closed an abortion loophole opened by the Irish Supreme Court that allows for abortion if the mother is suicidal. The Catholic Church and all the mainstream pro-life groups enthusiastically supported the referendum.

Enter Dana Scallon, who quite famously turned to politics after winning the Eurovision Song Contest and a lengthy recording career. Scallon was a darling of the pro-life movement and rightfully so. She was a fearless leader for the pro-life cause. She ran for the presidency of Ireland and lost and ended up in the European Parliament.

Scallon believed the 2002 referendum was really pro-abortion because it protected unborn children from implantation onward. To make it clear, the referendum would not have created a constitutional right to kill pre-implantation embryos which remained legislatively protected.

Scallon was joined in her campaign by John Smeaton who runs the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Smeaton became head of SPUC after a bloody 1999 battle with SPUC founder Phyllis Bowman, which resulted in SPUC under Smeaton losing most of its support in the British Parliament. Smeaton earned a reputation as a bare-knuckler in his battles with the elderly and much loved Bowman.

The 2002 referendum went down to defeat by a mere 11,000 votes. Liberal urban voters voted in large majorities to defeat the pro-life measure. A post-election poll showed that 30,000 (5%) of the no votes were from self-identified pro-lifers who had been persuaded by Scallon and Smeaton.

Experts in Ireland make it angrily clear that the current debate in Ireland, one that may bring legislative abortion to Ireland, is the fault of Scallon and to a lesser extent Smeaton.

The current debate revolves around the plight of a pregnant woman who died last fall. Abortion proponents say she could have been saved by direct abortion and are calling for legislative action to liberalize abortion laws, particularly for “suicidal” pregnant women. Pro-lifers see the suicide provision as subject to abuse and the beginning of abortion on demand.

Because the 2002 referendum failed, Irish abortion laws can be changed by the Parliament. Responsible pro-lifers are calling for the government to issue medical guidelines on what doctors are allowed and not allowed to do to save a mother’s life, excluding abortion. One of the interesting features of the Irish debate is the doctors have been almost universally pro-life and have said abortion is never medically necessary to save a mother’s life.

The battle lines are drawn. Sadly pro-life lines are being smudged once more. In recent days, Smeaton sent around a divisive note charging that Irish pro-life leaders are planning on compromising with pro-abortion forces. This was met with an angry rebuke from Irish pro-lifers who basically said Smeaton does not know what he’s talking about and after all he isn’t even Irish.

The fight for the unborn child brings out the best and sometimes the worst in human nature. People commit their entire lives to fighting for the unborn child and this is a great good. On the other hand, the fight is so desperate it encourages in some an inclination to purity.

Purists will oppose any improvement in the law if the law does not go all the way. The 2002 referendum in Ireland was not perfect so it had to be opposed.

The same debate goes on in the United States. Even now there is a not-so-healthy debate among pro-life leaders over the question of rape and incest exceptions. Some say that they would oppose outlawing abortion if the law left behind those children conceived in rape or incest. Of 1.2 million abortions in America, it is estimated 20,000 are for rape and incest. The purists would oppose ending 1,180,000 abortions if those 20,000 could not also be stopped at the same time.

This is madness. Even the Catholic Church would allow for such a bargain provided everyone understands the remaining law is still unjust and still needs to be changed. But, not the purists who say if you cannot save them all, then you should save none of them.

It is unclear how the current Irish debate ends. With the exception of a few outriders, the Irish movement is united. All eyes and prayers should be turned toward the good groups fighting for the unborn child in Ireland; Life & Family, Pro-Life Campaign, Iona Institute, and Youth Defense.


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