DUBLIN Oct 4 Patricia Casey's views on abortion
were formed at the age of 12 when she came across an image of
what looked to her like a torn-apart baby - an aborted foetus.
Now, at 25 a veteran anti-abortion campaigner in the
semi-autonomous UK province of Northern Ireland, she's committed
to a fight to ensure the abortion law in neighbouring Ireland
remains one of the world's strictest, preventing terminations in
nearly all circumstances.
"It is a battle, definitely it's a battle," she said.
"You've got to go out there fighting."
The issue pitches Ireland's Catholic conservatives against a
younger secular generation at a time when the church's grip on
society is weakening and the European Union, of which Ireland is
a member, is demanding a review of its laws.
But the active involvement of not just the Catholic church
but also the international anti-abortion movement, which often
cites Ireland as the jewel in its crown, means the country could
become a battleground for a global fight.
"It's nearly as if Ireland is the last bastion within
Europe, this is the final frontier, this has to be protected,"
said Kathleen Lynch, the Irish republic's junior minister for
disability, equality and mental health.
"I'm not certain we should equally be used by others, to
avenge something that they couldn't withstand in their own
Six successive Irish governments have shied away from
re-examining Ireland's ban on abortion, which has created a
mini-industry out of flying Irish women to other parts of the
world, especially Britain, to terminate their pregnancies.
The current coalition government's hand is about to be
forced by the recommendations of an expert panel formed to
respond to the EU, which is due to be given to the Health
Minister any day.
Casey was among around 100 people, many of them teenagers,
who attended Dublin's first anti-abortion "boot camp" on a
Saturday in September, featuring speakers from overseas
including veteran American campaigner Scott Klusendorf.
After eight hours of seminars on how to explain, persuade
and, if necessary, shock people into action on the issue, the
youngsters took their newly acquired marketing skills outside to
form a "life chain" at a busy thoroughfare, holding up graphic
images of aborted foetuses.
"They're buzzing. They can't wait to go out onto the
streets," said Casey. Abortion is extremely restricted in her
native Northern Ireland, and if Ireland changes its laws, the
pressure on the province to follow suit will be enormous.
A week later more than 1,000 people responded with a "March
for Choice" outside government offices, waving placards that
read "Get your rosaries off my ovaries" and chanting "Not the
church, not the state, women must decide their fate".
Sinead Redmond, 27, a software engineer from Kildare, said
she started the group on Facebook after seeing an advertisement
in a June campaign that argued "abortion tears her life apart".
"I was so angry," she said. "It was so invasive and so in
your face and so judgmental."
Ireland's abortion stance is enshrined in a 1983
constitutional amendment that intended to ban abortion in all
circumstances. In 1992, when challenged in the "X-case"
involving a 14-year-old rape victim, the Supreme Court ruled
that abortion was permitted when the woman's life was at risk,
including from suicide.
The total ban effectively remained in place, however, after
successive governments refused to make clear the circumstances
under which a threat would make an abortion legal. After several
challenges, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010
that Ireland must clarify its position.
The expert panel's recommendations are expected to outline
how to do that.
Four out of five Irish voters today would support a change
in the law to permit abortion in cases where a mother's life is
at risk, according to a poll for the Sunday Times on Sept. 16.
THE BRITISH SOLUTION
Nothing seems out of the ordinary at a medical waiting room
south of Manchester, England, littered with gossip magazines and
posters alerting women to issues like cervical cancer, but then
a patient is called for treatment by number, not name, to
protect her identity.
A quarter of clients at this abortion clinic have travelled
from Ireland, and anonymity is all-important for Irish women,
given the country's small close-knit communities.
This is just one of the services that caters to Irish women,
including free taxis from the airport. Last year an average of
just over 11 women travelled every day from Ireland to England
and Wales for an abortion, UK government statistics show.
"Just imagine having to leave home at 2 or 3 a.m., drive to
Dublin, to be hungry, to be nervous, to be feeling sick ... to
have to get on a plane - she could have travel sickness or be
nervous of flying - to have to come into a strange country,"
said Aaron Flaherty, who manages the clinic.
"It's those women that are suffering."
The so-called "British solution" has allowed Irish
politicians to sweep the issue under the carpet because women
have not had to resort to backstreet abortions, experts say.
"It is a failure of sovereignty to export the problem in
this way," said Ruth Fletcher, senior lecturer in law at Keele
It is one of many social issues that critics say Ireland has
addressed at a snail's pace over the years. It only legalised
divorce in 1997, and homosexuality was decriminalised five years
earlier and only after the European Court protested in 1988.
"We've been working through these legacy issues; it seems
like the abortion issue is the last stance of conservative
Ireland, and from where I'm sitting they're throwing everything
at it," said Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family
Planning Association, an Irish sexual health charity.
Klusendorf, who has spent the past 20 years on the road
training campaigners across North America as president and
founder of the Life Training Institute, anticipates spending a
lot more time in the UK and Ireland over the next decade.
"We have to equip pro-lifers, especially in countries where
the consensus that was forged around religion is starting to
erode, to make the case in a way that a secularised culture
cannot dismiss. That is why I'm here," he said.
The campaign has become more urgent after the EU court
decision and formation of the panel, said Eoghan de Faoite, a
28-year-old medical doctor and volunteer for Irish anti-abortion
group Youth Defence.
Faoite was among those who spoke at the Viva la Vida
bootcamp, which was put together in just three weeks on Facebook
with support from Youth Defence's 60,000 Facebook Friends.
"We expect to step it up a gear," he said, wearing a small
silver pin of a baby's feet in the lapel of his grey suit.
"Since January we've been at a really high intensity level of
campaigning, and we've seen a lot of good results from that."
The politics around the issue are potentially explosive.
Fine Gael, the senior partner in Ireland's ruling coalition,
will be reneging on pre-election promises if it introduces any
guidelines during its tenure, and may try to delay any action.
If it does so, however, it will go against not only the court,
but also its junior partner Labour, threatening to splinter an
already strained alliance.
"The court wants clarity, and the two parties have directly
opposing policies," said Ronan McCrea, a barrister and lecturer
in law at University College London.
"Irish politics and society love these fuzzy compromises,
where people believe mutually inconsistent things. But the court
wants clarity, and if there is one thing Irish people are bad
at, it's clarity."
Some fear politicians may continue to delay action, though
the health department's Lynch maintained there was no way to get
around the European court's ruling.
"The stars are definitely aligned for some serious change,"
said Jon O'Brien, head of Washington-based Catholics for Choice,
but added: "Irish politicians have been cowed down in the past.
It could go either way."