Anti-abortion group targets hospitals with extreme imagery

Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform linked to US organisation

An anti-abortion group that uses extreme imagery as a deliberate shock tactic has targeted Dublin's three maternity hospitals with banner-style pictures of dismembered foetuses.

One hospital, the Rotunda, called the gardaí. A senior nurse from another, the National Maternity Hospital (NMH), remonstrated with members of the group, telling them: "Go away. You are disgusting."

The group calls itself the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (ICBR) with an address at Coleville Road in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Company records state that it had two directors, Jacobus Wald Engela (58) and Jean Simonis Engela (31). Both are on the medical register – the first listed as a general practitioner, with degrees in medicine and surgery from the University of Pretoria; the second is also listed as a general practitioner, with qualification from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.


Neither was contactable yesterday, by email or telephone.

On Monday evening, ICBR activists stood outside the Rotunda, the NMH, and also the Coombe Women's Hospital, holding large-scale colour banners with bloodied images on them purporting to show aborted feotuses at various stages of gestation.

The activists have body cameras apparently filming anyone who approaches them and they do not engage in debate.


A note on the ICBR website,, states their aim as “Making abortion impossible to ignore or trivialize until people are bothered enough to do something about it”.

The ICBR is part of a network of like-named organisations in several countries, all apparently related to a US "pro-life" organisation, the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), which is based in Forest Lake, California and is run by Gregg Cunningham, a Pennsylvania republican and lawyer.

Mr Cunningham was in Ireland in January “helping Irish CBR push back proabortion forces in their demands to legalize abortion” according to CBR. Material on the CBR website indicates a theological, scripture-based opposition to abortion.

“God’s blessings on our teams holding sign displays in Ireland and Isle of Man,” says the CBR newsletter for January.

On its website, ICBR says it uses shocking images deliberately.

“We understand that seeing images of what abortion looks like is extremely distressing but feeling distressed about it is an appropriate response,” it says, before going on to add “it is definitely not our aim to upset women who have been through the trauma of abortion”.

Dublin maternity hospitals fear, however, that upset and distress is the end result of their activity.

Freedom of expression

A spokeswoman for the National Maternity Hospital said it recognised the right to freedom of expression.

“ However, women are attending our maternity hospital, sometimes in distressing circumstances, and it is totally inappropriate that they would be forced to walk past these types of displays,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the Rotunda said, in the interests of staff and patients, the hospital had written to anti-abortion and pro-repeal groups requesting that during the referendum campaign, they did not put up “ graphic and distasteful postering”.

“ Some groups respected the hospital’s wishes and removed posters, for which hospital management is grateful,” the Rotunda said in a statement.

"It is now very disappointing that the hospital was the target of quite a graphic and distressing protest. This protest has caused a lot of upset and distress for patients, many of whom attend the hospital for a number of different reasons and not just for the happy occasion of giving birth to a new baby.

“Hospital management are now appealing to all groups once again to refrain from postering or protesting in close proximity to the hospital for reasons outlined above.”

A spokesman for the Coombe hospital said the HSE has instructed it not to comment and to remain neutral in the referendum campaign. The HSE declined to comment. A spokesman for the Garda Síochána refused to confirm that a complaint had been made about the ICBR's activities.

Save the 8th campaign

Separately, Save the 8th spokesman John McGuirk has asked those pro-life supporters who have been posing with graphic billboards outside maternity hospitals in Dublin and at The Irish Times to stop.

“These are people who in many cases are not Irish and they should not be doing that and we’d encourage them to stop,” he said on Tuesday.

“That has no place in the campaign. Those people do not represent our campaign. They do not represent any other campaign. We don’t even believe they’re Irish and we wish they’d go home,” he said.

He also advised the public “don’t trust what’s on the internet. Trust the objective information that is right there in the Government’s Heads of Bill. It is published on our website. You can find it and people should go and read it for themselves. That’s the simplest way to get information.

He accused the Together for Yes campaign of “not engaging in this debate fully. Posters up around the country saying yes for compassion, yes for care, yes for kittens, yes for puppies, not talking about the issue, not talking about the real facts, what’s in this Bill. They have a case to answer,” he said.

“All they have been doing is engaging in platitudes. We think there is room for a real debate. That hasn’t happened yet and we hope that it will,” he said.

Generally he felt that “so far this has been a remarkably civil debate. There were fears going into this referendum that it wouldn’t be civil and that people would be name calling, that there would be abuse and all the rest of it.

“I would say that, with the notable exception of the online sphere, this has been something actually that has proved the prognosticators wrong. So far what we’ve been able to have is a very civil exchange of views between two sets of people who believe very different things about a very sensitive issue.”

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times