Irish pro-lifers flood streets to protest abortion bill

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Pro-lifers walk through Dublin, July 2, 2011, for the Fifth Annual All-Ireland Rally For Life. Credit: William Murphy-infomatique via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Tens of thousands of Irish protesters filled the thoroughfares of Dublin on Saturday, July 6, to oppose a parliamentary bill that would legalize some abortions in the Republic of Ireland.

Eoghan de Faoite, a physician with the pro-life group Youth Defence, said organizers of the All-Ireland Rally for Life were “absolutely delighted with the huge turnout.”

The march from Dublin’s Parnell Square to the national parliament drew attendees from across Ireland.

The protest comes at a critical time for Ireland, as a proposed parliamentary bill would for the first time legalize abortions in a country that has maintained rigorous laws against the procedure.

The bill won a first vote by a margin of 138-24. It will face a final vote this week.

De Faoite said there was “huge momentum building” to press for a popular vote on abortion legislation, instead of leaving it up to the country's parliament.

Protestors waved signs that read “Kill the bill! Not the child” and “We vote pro-life.” Organizers said as many as 60,000 attended the July 6 march and rally, while other estimates put the crowd at 35,000.

The ruling Fine Gael party had promised not to introduce abortion legislation in its campaign for the 2011 elections, a fact remembered by rally speakers such as Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute.

She told rally attendees that if Prime Minister Enda Kenny pushes through the law, he will tar his party as “the abortion party” and pro-lifers will “seek an alternative which protects both mother and baby.”

Explaining that 100,000 voters have signed pledges never to vote for Fine Gael again because of the legislation, she said it was time for “a new political alternative which would not betray serious electoral promises on matters of life and death.”

Ireland’s constitution recognizes the equal right to life of both the pregnant mother and the unborn child. However, the proposed bill would implement a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision ruling that abortion must be allowed to save the life of a pregnant woman – including when she threatens suicide.

Critics of the bill say the suicide threat exemption would in effect allow abortion on demand.

Present Irish medical practice distinguishes morally wrong direct abortion from medical treatments that may indirectly put the unborn baby’s life at risk.

The Catholic bishops of Ireland said the bill will “fundamentally alter the culture and practice of medical care” and will wrongly recognize abortion as an “appropriate response” to suicidal thoughts.

In a July 8 briefing note on the legislation, they said the bill also creates “serious moral, legal and constitutional conflicts in the area of freedom of conscience and religious belief.”

They suggested that the bill does not adequately protect the equal right to life of the unborn and could face constitutional challenge.

The push for the abortion law followed intense media controversy over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who was admitted to a Galway hospital while miscarrying.

She reportedly asked for an abortion, which doctors refused because the baby still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar later died of a severe antibiotic-resistant infection following her miscarriage.

A coroner’s inquest ruled that the woman contracted blood poisoning from ruptured uterine membranes and died of massive organ failure after her unborn baby died.

The European Court of Human Rights has also pressed for changes to Ireland’s abortion law.

Four pro-life members of Fine Gael have voted against the bill, and may be expelled from the party in parliament. They may also be barred from seeking reelection as Fine Gael candidates.

Fianna Fail party members tended to vote against the bill, though it won majority support among the Labor Party and Sinn Fein delegations, the Associated Press reports. The single Sinn Fein lawmaker who voted against the bill also faces expulsion from his party.

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