Abortion debate: Who are Dr John Monaghan and Maria Steen?

Retired obststrician and barrister argued for No side during RTÉ referendum broadcast

Dr John Monaghan and Maria Steen argued for a No vote in the upcoming referendum on repealing or retaining the Eighth Amendment during a debate broadcast on RTÉ on Monday night.

They went up against the better-known repeal campaigners Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Who are the two No campaigners?

Dr John Monaghan

Dr Monaghan worked as a consultant obstetrician in Portiuncula hospital, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, up until his retirement.


He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1976, and also trained in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. Dr Monaghan was the assistant master at the National Maternity Hospital from 1983 to 1986, and worked in obstetrics for more than 30 years.

Dr Monaghan is part of the Medical Alliance for the Eighth, advocating a No vote in the May 25th referendum.

Another medical practitioner involved with the group described Dr Monaghan as a “quiet spoken man who does not seek the limelight”. They said he had a “deep conviction as to the humanity of the unborn child”.

The medic said Dr Monaghan “would much rather not do public debates” but was “really pained” by high profile colleagues in the area of obstetrics calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Dr Monaghan has previously opposed liberalising access to abortion in Ireland. In 2013, he appeared before the Oireachtas health committee, which was considering the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013. The Bill allowed for abortion where there was a risk to the mother’s life, which included suicide.

Dr Monaghan said including the risk of suicide in the legislation, and linking a crisis pregnancy with suicide, “would appear to be dangerous”. He said it “may of itself increase suicidal ideation in some women who are pregnant and vulnerable.”

The legislation was introduced following the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died at University Hospital Galway in 2012 after a septic miscarriage.

Maria Steen

Ms Steen is a prominent anti-abortion campaigner who is best known as a spokeswoman for the Iona Institute, a conservative think-tank.

She is a qualified barrister, but has not practiced in a number of years, and homeschools her four children.

Ms Steen addressed the Citizens’ Assembly, during its deliberation on the State’s abortion laws in March 2017. She argued that the Eighth Amendment was necessary to protect the “vulnerable minority” of unborn children. She opposed the holding of a referendum on the matter.

A senior source in the No campaign described Ms Steen as “very sharp, very precise” and a “stickler for being correct.” They said she “lifted” the performance of those around her, and was “the kind of person I always like to have on my side.”

In 2001, Ms Steen was quoted in an article by BBC News, opposing the pro-choice group Women on Waves, who had sailed a ship with an operating theatre into Dublin Port, planning to provide abortions to Irish women in international waters.

Speaking to the BBC, under her maiden name Maria Davin, she described the action as a “publicity stunt”, and said the boat should not have been allowed to dock.

Ms Steen also campaigned against same-sex marriage being introduced in a 2015 referendum.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times