As the world goes mad, the Minimise project’s mission goes on. We hope you’re all safe and well. We’ll be blogging about COVID later in the week, but for now, we return to our series about the Irish pro-life movement.
In part 1 of this series, we examined 5 challenges the pro-life movement in Ireland faces. Here, we’ll look at 5 opportunities.
i) Blank canvas
Because we lost the referendum in 2018, the pro-life movement’s main energy is no longer invested in trying to maintain the legislative status quo. We must recognise that we lost the 8th Amendment, and that doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to persuade the electorate of our basic argument: the inherent dignity of all persons. This gives us an opportunity to strategically reset our own agenda. The possibilities for re-calibration, new strategies, and new perspectives are endless.
Some ideas that could be explored include:
- A refocusing of various campaigning organisations (e.g. could various pro-life groups gain charitable status?)
- Can those who are pro-life on purely secular grounds have more conduits to express themselves?
- Can those who are pro-life for religious reasons have conduits to express their views publicly too?
- Can our conferences and meetings inspire us to create long-term goals for using good arguments for changing people’s minds about abortion and reduce the number of abortions that happen in Ireland instead of exclusively aiming for short-term legislative and political successes?
The constant advancements in embryology and neonatal medicine cause the pro-choice position to look increasingly indefensible with each passing year. It is interesting to observe that the scientific basis of the pro-life position is well placed to pierce any potential pro-choice media bubbles (see: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/pro-life-pro-science/549308/). Also, newspapers regularly feature incredible stories of premature babies surviving against all odds. If these scientifically grounded stories are regularly able to enter public discourse through the media, in contrast to ordinary pro-life press releases and statements, then we should be focusing on this area. Many of the younger generation in the pro-life movement are pro-life simply because the pro-life position is the most consistent with modern science. Let’s use society’s increasing understanding of and deference to science to our advantage.
We have a serious amount of data available to us to help understand what people in many different circumstances think about abortion, particularly as a political issue. The data includes both pre-referendum polling and focus group studies, a full referendum result, plus a very detailed exit poll (https://static.rasset.ie/documents/news/2018/05/rte-exit-poll-final-11pm.pdf). The fact that over a third of the electorate voted for abortion to remain unconstitutional in nearly all circumstances shows that a considerable level of support already exists for the pro-life position. Yes we’re a minority, but we must not let the significance of that 1 in 3 figure be overlooked or ignored. Let’s use the information we have to determine where our campaigning and activism is directed.
iv) Late to the game
Incredibly, the conversation that we were having in 2018 about abortion could have easily happened in the 1960s, as it did in Britain, or the 1970s, as it did in the US. That Ireland held out for so long is a remarkable achievement and must be credited to the foresight that Irish pro-life leaders had in the 1970s and 1980s. This delay puts us in a position to learn from other pro-life movements around the world. What have their strategies been? What has worked and what hasn’t? Which movements operate in a similar context to Ireland? And before we rush to adopt strategies from other countries, let’s critically reflect on what would work well here in Ireland. For example, both the pro-life and pro-choice movements often look to America for inspiration and ideas. While the recent appointment of judges that are more likely to permit abortion restrictions cannot be underestimated, the long-term effects of having Donald Trump as the face of the pro-life movement there will have significant ramafications that cannot be overlooked. It’s helpful to learn from other pro life movements globally, but let’s take advantage of the fact that Ireland only legalised abortion decades after other countries did.
v) Small wins
We at the Minimise Project don’t merely wish to revert to a pre-repeal Ireland, rather, we believe that Ireland needs to focus on building a truely pro-life culture.
Small wins for human dignity can be achieved through ideas like the Pro-Life Campaign’s Community Connect programme: it is creating networks of centres which distribute materials that can support pregnant mothers in need. We should encourage politicians to pursue new policies that support pregnancy and parenting. The recent re-election of some brave pro-life politicians such as Peadar Tóibín, Mary Butler, Carol Nolan, Peter Fitzpatrick and Mattie McGrath was certainly a bright spot. But it is incumbent on everyone in the pro-life movement in Ireland to help find some small but clever coalition-building wins. We need everyone, both grassroots campaigners and organisational leaders, to think creatively about building a truly pro-life Ireland that isn’t merely anti-abortion, but is pro-life by being willing to reducing the abortion rate through social, economic and cultural supports in order to save as many lives as possible.
So we’ve now looked a five challenges and five opportunities for the pro-life movement in Ireland. In light of these, in part 3 we’ll examine where the pro-life movement might need need to focus its energies going forward.