By Micaiah Bilger
Government leaders in Ireland want to impose oppressive new prohibitions on prayer and peaceful sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities that could send pro-life advocates to jail.
Although the final legislation has not been released yet, pro-life leaders said it could punish peaceful sidewalk counselors for sharing information about pregnancy resources or even praying silently near an abortion facility, according to the Catholic News Agency.
“Assuming the law goes through, it will be one of the most restrictive in the whole of Europe,” David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, told CNA. “… We already have laws in Ireland against intimidation or harassment and our Garda Commissioner has said so in the context of calls for these buffer zones. But the government is pressing on anyway, egged on by most opposition parties and pro-abortion lobby groups.”
Quinn lamented how quickly Ireland has turned from pro-life to pro-abortion. In 2018, voters repealed a constitutional amendment that protected unborn babies’ right to life, and abortion on demand became legal a year later. Since then, thousands of unborn babies have been killed in abortions every year in the European nation.
Now, Irish government leaders want to hinder pro-lifers from trying to help pregnant mothers and save unborn babies’ lives.
Right to Life said the final legislation is not available yet, but a previous version prohibited pro-lifers from coming within 100 meters of an abortion facility to pray, hold signs or encourage pregnant mothers to choose life for their babies. That version punished pro-lifers with six months in jail or a €3,000 fine ($3,070), according to the pro-life organization.
While abortion activists claim the legislation is necessary to protect women from harassment, pro-life advocates said the government has not produced any evidence of this happening, according to the report.
Megan Ní Scealláin, of the Life Institute, said: “Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wrote to the Minister for Health [Stephen Donnelly] to clearly state that there was ‘no evidence’ to suggest that pro-life protests at any centers were abusive or threatening. He confirmed that the vigils were, in fact, peaceful and lawful.”
“In fact, the Garda Commissioner also stated that if any laws were to be broken existing laws were sufficient to deal with that,” she continued.
Scealláin said the minister for health ignored these facts and chose instead to go after peaceful, law-abiding pro-life advocates.
If the legislation passes, pro-life advocates plan to challenge it in court.
Cora Sherlock, a solicitor and pro-life leader in Ireland, said anyone who believes in free speech should be concerned about the plan.
“The right to freedom of expression, movement and peaceful assembly and freedom to protest have always been held very highly in Ireland and given high priority in the Irish Constitution. Proposed legislation that would infringe on this should ring alarm bells for everyone,” Sherlock told CNA.
Meanwhile, some cities in the United States, Australia and England already have legislation in place that prohibits pro-life advocates from conducting peaceful outreach outside abortion facilities. In 2019, a man in a wheelchair was arrested for praying outside an abortion facility in Ealing, England, soon after the city council passed a 100-meter buffer zone.
In the United States, courts have struck down some buffer zone ordinances, but others remain in effect.
Buffer zones violate pro-life advocates’ freedom of speech and hurt mothers and babies. Outside abortion facilities across the world, pro-lifers offer information and resources to help parents choose life for their babies. They provide information and support that abortion facilities often do not, such as facts about fetal development and pregnancy/parenting resources in the community. Many pro-lifers also pray for those victimized by the abortion industry and offer counseling and other help to post-abortive women.