- 12 Feb 19
Predictably, the anti-choice mob have been utterly unscrupulous in their targeting of women availing of abortion services in Ireland. The State must use every resource – including, if necessary, strengthening the law – to ensure this intimidatory behaviour becomes a thing of the past.
Know thine enemy. It may seem like old-fashioned advice, but it is of crucial importance.
When we voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, in the middle of 2018, some people may have believed that it was all entirely done and dusted. No, no, no. Not so.
The anti-choice mob don’t much like democracy. Or the truth. Over many years, the more aggressive foot-soldiers among them have proven utterly unscrupulous in the pursuit of their crude objectives. What did they do when it was decided by referendum that women were entitled to information about how an abortion could be obtained outside the State? They opened up bogus counselling agencies, specifically to try to bully women not to travel.
And what means of persuasion did they use? Having lured women into their grip under false premises, they engaged in a deeply malicious disinformation campaign. They knowingly lied about the extent of post-abortion ’trauma’. They tried to frighten women by showing them pictures of late-term abortions.
It didn’t matter that there was a huge element of dishonesty involved. It didn’t matter how badly upset the women might be. These neanderthals were more than happy to lie and dissemble. To twist arms. To dish out utterly spurious, deceitful propaganda as the truth. They are past masters at it. The rights of the individuals targeted mattered not a whit. The anti-choice gang knew that they were acting under false pretences. But this was all about successful intimidation and they carried on regardless.
Well, the same tactics are being applied now, to the everyday reality that abortion is finally available in Ireland. They don’t give a damn that the majority of people voted in favour of legalising abortion: as I said, democracy really does mean nothing to them. Nor do they care how much trauma or personal upset they might inflict on women already attempting to deal with a crisis. They want to impose their grubby will on anyone and everyone – and to hell with the consequences.
Which is why they are currently carrying out a sneaky, underhand campaign, which aims to subvert the decision of the vast majority of Irish voters. Their aim is to target women who have decided to have an abortion, and prevent them by whatever means might be available – including physical threat and intimidation.
And they are pursuing this campaign, it seems, with the active connivance of people working within the hospital system. This much was admitted by one anti-choice demonstrator, picketing outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, following a tip-off that the first abortion was about to take place in the hospital.
“We received reliable information that there were two abortions taking place in the hospital today,” the vigilante boasted, “so our purpose is to have a prayerful, peaceful presence to remember that baby and to honour their lives however short they might be.”
Asked about who was providing the group with information – and if hospital staff were involved – the man told The Journal website that “We do have people kind of on the grapevine.” But he refused to give any more details, saying, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
It is an interesting confession. He does not want to get anyone ‘in trouble’. That sounds like a clear admission that the man – and his informants – know that what they are doing is wrong. That they are in breach of a patient’s right to privacy; and that sanctions might follow any admission by staff that they are involved in passing privileged information about patients to third-parties.
Last week saw the emergence of another, even more serious case. The full facts have not yet been established – but what we have heard has the ring of truth.
A woman posted on social media that, having initially visited the Well Woman Centre, she had an abortion in the National Maternity Hospital. Following a scan, she was given the all-clear to go home. She has stated that she later received a call from a number unknown to her. When she answered, a man instructed her to come to a purported health clinic in Dublin to “re-book a scan.” The man was in possession of her personal details, including her phone number and address. She later received a text message telling her to come to a “clinic” on the north side of Dublin city.
Other unfortunate women might have done as instructed, thereby exposing themselves to who knows what level of intimidation and trauma. This particular woman became suspicious, and contacted the NMH and the Well Woman Centre. According to the woman’s account, neither had any knowledge of what, it became clear, was an entirely spurious ‘appointment’. The woman subsequently discovered that the number from which she had been called is linked to an anti-choice website, which has been given a name that is – deliberately – confusingly similar to the official HSE ‘My Options’ site.
The woman also recounted that she called the number back, asking about the credentials of the site – and the man then started to shout abuse at her, telling her that she was “disgusting”, for having had an abortion. The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has described the woman’s account of the incident as extraordinarily “concerning and disturbing.” And he has instructed the HSE to carry out an investigation into the alleged breach of patient confidentiality.
That is fine as far as it goes. But the real onus is now on the Gardaí to fully investigate what is likely a criminal matter. If an individual lifted the personal data of a patient and passed this on to the anti-choice aggressors, who then pursued her via phone calls and text messages, the full weight of the law should be applied, for what is clearly an instance of data theft.
In addition, any third party, who used that information, should be treated as an accessory to the theft and also dealt with accordingly. The seriousness of breaches of confidentiality of this kind must be made clear from the outset. Whispering campaigns are not OK. Passing private information on to anti-choice bullies, so that they can threaten and intimidate women – whether through aggressive picketing outside hospitals and clinics, or via data theft and intimidatory phone calls – is against the law.
And if we have to strengthen the law to ensure that it is not an option, then that should be done as a matter of urgency. Know thine enemy. The anti-choice mob are entirely unscrupulous. They will continue to target individual women. And they have no compunction at all about breaking the law. The only way to stop them is to make sure that they know that what they are doing is a very risky business indeed. For them.