From the Belfast Telegraph:
Over half of Northern Ireland’s MLAs have signed a campaign letter calling for an immediate end to the detention of pregnant women at a holding facility on the Co Antrim coast. Larne House is an immigration detention centre based at a PSNI station in the town and run by a private company on behalf of the Home Office. A campaign launched by Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice (FVRJ) in partnership with Alliance for Choice branches in Belfast and Derry has called for its closure after it was revealed that eight pregnant women had been detained at the centre since 2016.
What’s happened here is that Larne House is a detention centre for immigrants who are judged to be in violation of the terms under which they are allowed to be in Northern Ireland. Before being deported they are often held in places like this. These centres are often not nice places, and detention is supposed to be a last resort. That eight pregnant women were detained over a six year period suggests otherwise. Kellie Turtle of Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice put it concisely to the Telegraph:
Given the guidance says this should only be in exceptional circumstances, eight really indicated to us that this was not exceptional — this is routine. These are the most marginalised women in society — asylum seekers, people with insecure immigration status — who are subject to extremely harsh practices by the UK Home Office. It just really feels at odds with Northern Ireland’s view of itself as a place that values life and values mothers. This is a group of women and babies that are put at risk.
As the name suggests, Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice are a pro-choice group. They and Alliance for Choice have been the drivers of this campaign.
If you look at a lot of stuff like this – social or political campaigns on issues that affect women and babies that are not directly to do with abortion – you will find a similar pattern repeated. Pro-choice people and organisations are much more likely to be involved in them than their pro-life equivalents.
Go and look at Ivana Bacik TD’s social media. Aside from being the current leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Bacik has been a hugely influential pro-choice campaigner for years. It only takes a glance at her Twitter account to see one reason why. She just campaigns on loads of other issues, particularly ones that affect women. For example, she’s one of the co-signatories of a recent letter to the Irish Independent arguing that Ireland should massively increase the amount of paternity leave it offers. But one could pick any number of examples.
I am not saying that pro-lifers are never involved in things like this. Senator Rónán Mullen, for example, has an admirable record on human trafficking and on the rights of asylum seekers, paying particular attention to women and families in the direct provision system. Nor am I saying that individual pro-life people aren’t involved in campaigns like this all the time. But when it comes to public stuff it’s much more likely to be pro-choice groups doing the running.
I think it would be good if this changed!
First, and most importantly, it would be good if pro-lifers threw more of our energy behind campaigns that benefit mothers and babies, because our movement is all about the wellbeing of mothers and babies. And indeed many of these initiatives would actually reduce the number of abortions and save lives – better parental leave, for instance, makes it easier for people to carry a pregnancy to term knowing that they and their partners will have a guarantee of at least some time where their career won’t be disrupted by taking time to look after their baby. There’s not much more to say on this point!
Second, if the ‘usual topics’ that people associated pro-lifers with started including things like campaigning for the rights of pregnant people in detention or for increased parental leave… that would be good for the cause of equal rights for all humans! It would make it hard for people to believe that we didn’t actually care about women if we were constantly involved, and seen to be involved, in campaigns on various non-abortion-related issues that particularly affect them.
Third, getting involved with these campaigns is a great way to put yourself in a position to have some conversations about abortion. If you and a pro-choice person have your campaign in common, you’ve already done a lot of the work establishing common ground and any chats you have are that much more likely to be productive and actually lead to minds changing.
Now, there is definitely a bit of an ‘I wouldn’t start from here’ problem about pro-life people and organisations getting involved in campaigns like this. Given that so many of them are run by pro-choice organisations, a lot now wouldn’t welcome pro-life involvement. But pro-life people and organisations can still do the Ronald Reagan “you can’t endorse me but I can endorse you” move about particular campaigns: there’s nothing stopping us issuing press releases and statements about issues like the detentions at Larne house or getting members to lobby politicians about them. Even more importantly, there’s no reason we can’t lead on some of these things, bringing issues to light and starting campaigns on issues that affect women and babies. Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín does this pretty regularly, using parliamentary questions and FOI requests to bring issues into the public eye. But you don’t have to be an elected representative to do this: you just have to be involved in your community or connected with the sort of people involved in campaigns like this.