A group of self-styled “pro-life activist journalists” have travelled from the US to lend their support to the anti-repeal side in the referendum on the Eight Amendment.
The group, which runs an American pro-life organisation, says it plans to attend rallies by both sides, videoing them and putting the results online.
Two activists, Emily Faulkner (23) and Nathan Berning (25), told The Irish Times they expect to be joined soon by seven associates.
The pair live in Colorado where they run an anti-abortion organisation, LetThemLive.org, and are associated also with The Leadership Institute, a right-wing organisation in Virginia that seeks to recruit young people to conservative causes in the US.
In an interview, they explained why they had come to Ireland and why they wanted to influence the referendum.
Since announcing online last month that they were joining the retain campaign, they said they had been discouraged by “hateful” comments about them on Facebook. They were not working with any of the retain campaigns here, they said.
“We haven’t had any success trying to connect with any of the pro-life organisations here,” said Mr Berning. “I think that’s mostly because there’s a fear it’s illegal for us to help them.”
As a result, they had changed tack and would not be doing door-to-door canvassing, although they would do some “town centre” publicising, using images and diagrams showing development within the womb.
“Our focus has shifted to being more journalist and documenting what happens so that we can show people back home,” said Mr Berning.
Did this mean they saw themselves as journalists?
“Absolutely!” said Ms Faulkner. “We do like to consider ourselves as pro-life journalists in like a kind of activist way.”
Motivated by science The two say their anti-abortion stance is not motivated primarily by religious faith but rather by science.
Ms Faulkner, who says her family background is pro-life, studied biology and hopes to study gynaecology.
“During my classes,” said Ms Faulkner, “we started talking about embryology and the beginning of life and I’m like ‘What! This is cool!’ Science is really amazing and I can fit that with my pro-life views.”
Mr Berning said he was initially pro-choice in outlook until he went to college in Indiana, where he grew up.
“There was a display of an aborted baby next to a penny, and I’m not sure what the age of the foetus was at that point, but I just saw it and it was very brutal to me and at first I think I was upset by the image,” he said.
Both believe that life begins at the moment of conception and that abortion is wrong in all circumstances.
Asked if they gave equal value to a fertilised egg, from the nanosecond after conception, and a 30-year-old woman, they said they did.
“Absolutely,” said Ms Faulkner, “because [the embryo] is a human being.”
“It has a unique DNA at the moment of conception,” said Mr Berning.
Mr Faulkner: “It’s a person.”
Mr Berning: “It’s a person with potential.”
“It is a human being. We were all there once,” said Ms Faulkner.
Asked about the view of leading clinicians in Ireland that the Eighth Amendment has created legal uncertainty as to what they, as medics, can and cannot do, and is therefore a danger to women’s health, Ms Faulkner and Mr Berning said such situations were a tiny minority.
What of the situation of a woman, whose pregnancy involved a fatal foetal abnormality incompatible with life, who wanted an abortion but could not get one in Ireland?
“For us,” said Mr Berning, “I guess it comes down to, the percentage of the likelihood of something like that happening is so low, we don’t believe that you should legislate for that less than 1 per cent of pregnancies when it risks the 99 per cent.
“There’s been over 100,000 abortions prevented in Ireland, if you compare it with the UK.”
He computed this figure by calculating the number of abortions he estimates would have taken place in Ireland since 1983, had abortion been permitted here during that period and abortion rates been the same as the UK.
No woman need be denied any medical treatment because of the Eighth, said Ms Faulkner. If in treating cancer, or dealing with an ectopic pregnancy, a foetus was adversely affected, that was not the intention and there was therefore “no direct killing of a child in the womb”.
And as for competing but equal rights (as the amendment enunciates for both the unborn and the mother), a doctor should decide treatment, said Mr Berning, on the basis of “which life is more likely to survive and continue”.
“From the medical perspective, that would be what I would argue to be the way to look at it,” he said. “Because, if the mother is about to die, then you should work to save the child. If the child is about to die and the mother has a chance of survival, then you work to save the mother. That’s pretty simple stuff.”
On the case of Savita Halappanavar, who was refused an abortion during a miscarriage because of uncertainty relating to the amendment and who died of sepsis (blood poisoning), Ms Faulkner said the role of medics was relevant in the case also.
“Maybe [the] physician should have been looking a little bit more closely to monitor that situation because if they could have caught the miscarriage soon enough, abortion would not have had to be performed and her life could have been saved,” said Ms Faulkner.
“So if there was just a little bit more care . . . No need to legalise abortion but a little bit more care and attention.”
The case was unfortunate, said Mr Berning.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that, you know, these things happen. People do die. It’s just part of life, I guess. That risk is always there,” he said.
The pair, who are staying in an Airbnb in Tipperary, will this weekend attend a round of campaign events in Dublin.