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Pro-life prayer vigils held as more hospitals plan abortion services

Pro-life activists have taken part in prayer vigils at hospitals which plan to start performing abortions in 2024, with those protesting in Cavan saying they received “strong support” from a diverse group of healthcare professionals working at the hospital. 

Vigils also took place in Roscommon and Dublin in recent weeks, with activists saying that peaceful protests are an “essential part of democracy” – and vowing to continue with vigils despite the proposed establishment of zones which would criminalise such actions.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced in December that provision was being expanded so that 17 out of 19 Irish maternity units would be carrying out abortions in 2024, including Cavan General Hospital.

He said that abortion provision had commenced in St Luke’s hospital, Kilkenny; Letterkenny University Hospital; Wexford General Hospital; Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise; and Portiuncula hospital, Ballinasloe, after the recruitment of staff “specifically tasked to provide the service”.

Donnelly said that he had made abortion provision one of his “main priorities”.

Choose Life Cavan, who organised what they described as a prayer protest at the entrance to Cavan General Hospital at 3pm on last Sunday, said that they wanted to show their opposition to the plans to carry out abortions.

Previously, the Anglo Celt reported, in 2019, consultants at Cavan General Hospital “wrote to the then Minister for Health stating an objection to their involvement in providing terminations”.

A recruitment process to appoint medical practitioners to carry out abortions at the local hospital ended with a shortlisting of candidates in December 2022, and interviews in January 2023.

According to correspondence, seen by the Celt, Cavan General was scheduled to provide full abortion services by the third quarter of 2019, but this was pushed back because the hospital simply did not have the required “staffing to provide the service”.

Cavan Chose Life said that the protest had received “strong support” from a diverse group of healthcare workers at the hospital including from who had come to work in Ireland from abroad.

And they revealed that their South Cavan branch had hired a barrister to establish the rights of HSE employees and hospital workers who refuse to carry out abortions or work where support services are provided.

This, they said, would focus on the premise of ‘conscientious objection’ – the refusal to perform a legal role or responsibility because of personal beliefs.

The group said that their campaign hoped to follow the example of the Land League in the area when, in 1880, employees of Captain Boycott (land agent for Lord Erne, a landowner in County Mayo) were encouraged to withdraw their labour, in resistance to proposed evictions on the estate.

The protest in Cavan heard from a mother of 10 year old twins from Ballyjamesduff who she said was encouraged to abort her children by a hospital doctor after a prenatal diagnosis of a suspected abnormality, but who is now the proud mother of two healthy ten year old girls.

Sligo Rally

Meanwhile, pro-life activists in Sligo who took part in a large demonstration earlier this month at Sligo University Hospital, described the estimates of 800-900 abortions per month being carried out in Ireland as “a devastating tragedy”.

Seán Wynne said that “campaigners were accused of scaremongering in the run up to the referendum, but based on the latest figures, if anything, they underestimated what would happen in Ireland if the 8th amendment was repealed, now that we see the true figures emerging.”

“97% of babies terminated are perfectly healthy, so the question must be asked; why are life-giving alternatives to abortion not even being discussed?” he asked.

“This outcome is a devastating tragedy and a huge indictment of the Government, resulting from all of the misleading statements made during the referendum campaign five years ago, as well as their refusal to support positive alternatives to terminations.

Mr Wynne said, “We are hugely encouraged by the way in which pro-life activists remain committed to the right to life of all human beings, given the setback that happened in 2018.

“One only has to look at what’s happening in other countries, with great hope and optimism, to see that this battle for the right to life of the unborn is far from over,” he added.

Roscommon for Life

A group from Roscommon for Life also took part in what they described as a prayer vigil last week across from a GP centre in Castlerea where they said abortions are being facilitated.

“Healthcare professionals are supposed to heal, not to kill an innocent human baby,” the group said. “Nobody who cares for human life can remain a bystander to the greatest rights injustice of our time…….an injustice which intentionally ends a human life and impacts the lives of women and men on so many levels that cannot be anticipated or is not acknowledged for the harm it inflicts, often years later.”

The protests and vigils will be subject to the provision of an “access zones” bill which  has passed through the Dáil and will now make it’s way to the Seanad.

The Health (Termination of Pregnancy) (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2023 would introduce 100-metre “exclusion zones” around the facilities providing abortion including GP practices and maternity hospitals.

The legislation has been criticised for seeking to “criminalise peaceful protests and even silent prayer” – but Minister Donnelly said the Bill ensures “safety, with dignity and privacy” for women seeking abortion.

“The introduction of Safe Access Zones will protect the freedom to access termination of services without impediment and the privacy and dignity of women accessing health services, as well as the service providers, and their staff in the course of their duties and responsibilities,” he said.

However, pro-life campaigners say that Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, said that there is no evidence that women accessing termination services are being threatened or abused by protesters.

“I confirm my satisfaction with existing public order legislation to adequately deal with any reasonable public order incident that may arise at such centres,” the Garda Commissioner wrote to then Minister, Simon Harris.

“I re-confirm my views expressed at our recent meeting that protests to date at such centres have not contravened the law and are peaceful.

“To date no incident of criminality has been reported or observed as a result of a protest placed at or near the vicinity of a service centre.”

Commissioner Harris’s letter added: “There is no evidence to suggest that there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising such services.

Mairín de Barra

This article first appeared on gript and is printed here with permission

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