The opening ceremony of the 2003 Special Olympics, held in Croke Park. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence. Credit to mb.matt~commonswiki

Guest post from Luke-Peter Silke

Through engaging with pro-choice friends I’ve discovered that quite a lot of them have a flawed view of what motivates those of us on the pro-life side of the abortion debate. I’m sure many other pro-life campaigners will have encountered the same arguments. Many pro-choice people think our motivation is based on a desire ‘to control women’, that pro-life people only care about the baby and not the woman, that we lack compassion and are just a bunch of grumpy people who like to whinge, moan and complain about abortion, and that a political or legal change to ban abortion would leave us 100% satisfied. This, for me, certainly isn’t true. The day after the result of the 2018 abortion referendum was announced I sent a letter to the Sunday Independent entitled ‘The fight goes on’. What few knew was that my letter had been drafted before the result was apparent and that regardless of the result my letter would have been issued and would have read exactly the same – a campaign goes on – we need better supports for women in crisis situations, we need perinatal hospice care, we need free counselling, we need to put an end to homelessness, abortion regret needs to be recognised as a significant phenomenon, etc. 

Numerous people that I met in that campaign had fantastic stories of initiatives they started to help women and children, initiatives they have devoted their lives to. I’m thinking of No campaigners such as Sinéad and Martin McBreen who have a daughter, Grace, who has Down Syndrome. I met Sinéad, Martin and Grace during the course of the campaign. They started, with others, The Perfect Gift, a group who deliver little baskets to people who have just become parents of a child with Down Syndrome. Their Facebook page sums up their mission:

So often in Ireland, the news of a child having Down Syndrome is greeted with fear, sorrow and even condolences. We want to try to change this in our own small way by providing baskets of love to new mothers to say: Congratulations, Mama. You did an amazing job! Your child is PERFECT. We’re here for you. Trust us when we say, your life is about to become something truly amazing because of this beautiful little soul.

Because of the stereotype that surrounds pro-life activism, many pro-choice people who I converse with are shocked to learn that the McBreens, who featured in the RTÉ News clip below, are the same people who featured in the much talked about ‘Vote No’ posters regarding Down Syndrome during the referendum campaign.

I also came across Ade Stack and Martin Curley who appeared at LoveBoth press conferences campaigning for a No vote during the referendum. They started Hugh’s House, which provides accommodation 365 days a year to the families of children who are long-term in-patients of Temple Street, Holles Street, the Coombe and Rotunda hospitals, for free. They receive no government funding and have been vocal campaigners for a perinatal hospice to be started in Ireland. Here is a piece to camera Ade did with some years ago, about the work of Hugh’s House.

Pro-life young people in Ireland hold a gala ball each year in Dublin to raise much needed funds for Hugh’s House. Students for Life Ireland get involved each year in the annual collection for the Special Olympics, another fantastic organisation, whose foundress was – surprise, surprise – a pro-life activist and campaigner.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died in 2009 aged 88, was a sister of the late US President John F. Kennedy. She was a Democrat. She always maintained that an incident in her childhood motivated her, and indeed she maintained that it also motivated President Kennedy. Their sister, Rosemary, was said to have had an intellectual disability (1) and underwent a controversial, barbaric and now discredited lobotomy procedure in her youth. The Kennedys’ father Joseph had organised the procedure without consulting his wife Rose in what is widely interpreted as an effort to ‘cure’ his daughter so as to avoid ‘shame’ for the family. 

Rosemary was subsequently institutionalised. Her sister Eunice was close to her and maintained that this incident drove her politically. Eunice was a feminist. She spoke in 2007 at the Kennedy Presidential Library about how she saw her mother and her sister ‘treated with unbearable rejection’, and how she ‘experienced the sting of rejection as a woman who was told that the real power was not for me’. 

She was perhaps most famous for her address to the athletes in the Special Olympics in 1987: ‘you send a message of hope, a message of victory. The right to play on any playing field, you have earned it, the right to study in any school, you have earned it. The days of separation and segregation are over’.

Kennedy caused a storm in the 1990s when she wrote a letter to the New York Times denouncing a pro-choice group for using a quote from President Kennedy out of context to support their position. In 1992 she and other prominent Democrats paid for a two-page pro-life advertisement in the New York Times, opposing the Democratic Party’s moves towards supporting abortion on demand. She remained an avid supporter of Feminists for Life of America and Democrats for Life until her death.

There is no denying the fact that in the modern world pro-life people are stereotyped by journalists, commentators, campaigners and others. I am always delighted when pro-choice friends challenge me in a respectful manner about my views and motivations: quite often such conversations result in me better understanding their motivations and them better understanding mine. People like Martin and Sinéad McBreen, or Martin Curley and Ade Stack, or Eunice Kennedy Shiver give a face to the pro-life movement. They sum up what our motivations are, why we are pro-life: it’s all about love, equality and human rights and a desire to make the world a better, more welcoming place. My message to pro-choice people reading this is – talk to pro life people, investigate what motivates them, what incident has led them to this position. And my message to pro-life readers is the same – talk to pro-choice people! 

Luke-Peter Silke, 22, is an author and journalist from Co. Galway. He is currently studying for a BA in Creative Writing in NUIG and is a regular contributor to public discourse on radio and in print media. He has been an active pro-life campaigner for many years.

(1) It seems likely that Rosemary Kennedy may in fact have been suffering from depression. This article is worth reading, though we would caution readers that it uses the term ‘retarded’ somewhat uncritically.