The Life Institute has said that it believes a great deal of malice and a desire to punish pro-life activists is the primary motivation behind moves to criminalise peaceful and prayerful vigils at abortion centres.
Spokeswoman Niamh Uí Bhriain said that allegations made by groups campaigning for the law had been shown to be a lie, including claims that women were being harassed and that pro-life prayer vigils were being told when abortions were carried out.
"All of the claims made in support of criminalising pro-life vigis were shown to be a lie, she said. "At first, it was claimed that new legislation was needed because women were being harassed while entering abortion centres. Then the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris said clearly that there was 'no evidence to suggest that there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising such services'. He also added that existing public order laws were sufficient to deal with any cases of harassment should they arise."
"But abortion campaigners just kept repeating the lie, using their allies in the Dáil and Seanad to repeatedly claim that small, silent, prayerful pro-life vigils at Limerick Hospital were intimidating and harassing women. An investigation shows that neither Limerick Hospital nor any of the other maternity units and hospitals throughout the country had received any complaints from patients or staff," she said. "Of course they didn't because the vigils usually amount to two women at a time walking quietly around the hospital praying for mothers and babies. The whole push to criminalise such activists is based on a complete fabrication of events and a distortion of reality that has gone completely unchecked by most of the media."
"Then further false claims were made alleging that staff in Limerick Hospital were leaking the times of abortion appointments to those praying for mothers. Again, that was shown to be untrue because an FOI revealed there was no set day for abortion appointments, but at no time were the politicians or campaigners held to account for misinforming the public," the Life Institute spokeswoman said.
"So now we have the Minister for Health bringing forward legislation, without evidence, simply to appease those who want to punch down at pro-lifers," she said. " Given that there is, in the words of the Garda Commissioner, no evidence of any wrongdoing from silent, prayerful pro-life vigils, it is hard to see how anything but malice is motivating this proposal."
"In fact, the legislation doesn't require anyone to misbehave or even to try to speak to a woman who might be undecided and panicked as she looks for an abortion," Ms Uí Bhriain said. "It seeks to criminalise any activity that might "influence" a woman, or an abortion doctor, so a lone pro-lifer holding a small sign saying 'Pregnant? I can help you' could face a fine and prison."
The Life Institute spokeswoman said that the public understanding of the controversy was being "massively skewed" by repeated misreporting of the unchecked claims of abortion supporters.
"The truth is that most people are not abortion extremists. If they knew the truth - that this bill wants to criminalise peaceful people who are usually silently praying for women and hoping to offer them support - they would be opposed to this measure," she said. "There is no significant evidence that shows a need for this measure: it smacks of the kind of nasty and vindictive malice which can emerge when those who have, for now, achieved a majority want to punish their opponents."
The Life Institute spokeswoman said that it was most likely the matter would end up being decided in the courts, where false claims and wild allegations would come under the kind of rigorous scrutiny that TDs, Senators and most media platforms had failed to provide thus far.
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