When I tookthe helm of the Review last year, I did not foresee how real the Pro Vita arm of the mast-head would become so quickly as I relive the immediate aftermath of the 1992 X Case. Standing in Merrion Square on January 19 brought the events of 21 years ago back to me sharply.
It has never been more dangerous for the Irish unborn than it has been in the past few months. The government, it appears, is about to legislate for abortion and is determined to do so quickly. Enda Kenny, who wishes to deflect the issue by protesting he is not King Herod, (handing a convenient nickname for himself to The Phoenix) does not seem to be aware of the dynamic of abortion worldwide. There is no such thing as limited abortion. Some jurisdictions can keep the lid on abortion for a short period of time following legislation (former West Germany could until unification),but none has done so indefinitely. No matter how narrow the framers of legislation assume the law will be, practice will inevitably broaden. David Steel did not envisage his 1967 bill in Britain leading to the abortion industry that exists on that island today. Bill Clinton’s sound-bite about abortion being “safe, legal and? rare” rings very hollow in our ears.
Some advocates of abortion in Ireland were surprised at the numbers at the Vigil for Life. That comes from paying too much attention to The Irish Times and RTÉ. According to Garda estimates, thirty thousand people gathered outside Government Buildings on a cold Saturday afternoon. Some came from great distances. I briefly talked to an old friend who is now a Derry diocesan priest and I heard accents from every county in Ireland. The speakers were impressive and I am happy to include David Manly’s address in this issue. I found those there, young and old, clergy and laity, came away energised and the political and media establishment took notice.
Pro-lifers must not rest on their laurels. If abortion becomes legal in the next six months, this rally will seem like an exercise in futility. It is important to keep up the pressure. If a greater rally can be organised in more clement weather, this should be done. Meanwhile, all sources must be tapped. Much has been said about lobbying Fine Gael and reminding them of their unequivocal commitment not to legislate for abortion prior to the last election. It is also important to lobby the main opposition party. Fianna Fáil are happy to sit on the fence on this one, and party health spokesman Billy Kelleher (Cork North-Central) has used the word “consensus”. From a pro-life point of view, it is crucial that the 19 Fianna Fáil deputies and 14 senators oppose any proposed legislation. If they do, they will put Fine Gael under a great deal of pressure and make life very uncomfortable for the wavering Fine Gael TDs. If I believe The Phoenix, it will also cause difficulties for Sinn Féin who are far from unanimous on the issue. We cannot leave a single stone unturned, no matter how distasteful approaching some politicians may be. Meath East is a good constituency to start as it is facing a by-election in the near future.
It is also necessary to co-opt any allies to our side. The only criticism I have of the two vigils was that both were Catholic affairs. There are many pro-lifers in other denominations: Protestants, particularly of the evangelical variety, Orthodox in growing numbers, Moslems, and even people of no faith. Ian Paisley is reputed to have once said he would walk arm-in-arm with the Pope to oppose abortion. Whether this is true or false is immaterial; this is the spirit we must adopt at present. I also imagine there must be many opponents of abortion among our immigrant communities: the Filipinos, Poles, Lithuanians and Slovaks among us include many strong Catholics, and a lot of our Africans are either Catholic or evangelical. To involve these groups will deflate the caricatures commonly used against pro-lifers.
Aside from that, it is essential to maintain the tremendous pro-life unity which has been built up this time and to find other ways of perpetuating the spirit which existed in Merrion Square in January for as long as this threat lasts. The future starts here.