Is this a right-wing conspiracy?

Ireland has an abortion rate normal for its population in Europe – it’s just that all legal abortions that Irish women have are outsourced, mostly to the UK. Irish women who have illegal abortions buy abortifacients online, which is more dangerous than a legal abortion but, once accomplished, the woman can (and hopefully, does) go to a hospital to be treated for the aftereffects of a miscarriage. (This is probably the safest method of illegal abortion, if carried out early and if the woman does seek medical help (and get it) promptly afterwards. And of course it’s much cheaper than a trip to England.)

Ireland has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world – UNICEF/WHO calculations in 2005 – but Dr Michael O’Hare, a consultant obstetrician at a Northern Ireland hospital and the Chair of the Maternal Mortality Joint Working Group (a multi-disciplinary group established in 2007 to review the issue of maternal death in Ireland) has said that the actual incidence of maternal death in Ireland is almost certainly under-reported, perhaps by a factor of 10.

“We believe that that situation is not as rosy as it would appear to be. In fact, we are certain that it is not as rosy, ” Dr O’Hare stated.

The 2005 WHO report acknowledges the difficulties surrounding data collection in some countries. According to the report, “even in developed countries where routine registration of deaths is in place, maternal deaths may be underreported, and identification of the true numbers of maternal deaths may require additional special investigations into the causes of deaths”.

“We are not saying that Ireland is the only country that has problems with data collection but we are absolutely sure that Ireland has problems in that respect,” Dr O’Hare said.

Prolifers like to claim that abortion is dangerous: one of their routine claims is that banning abortion is somehow the cause of Ireland’s low maternal mortality rate. (Googling on irish abortion maternal death rate gets over a million hits, half of those on the first page from prolife sites.)

GeoffShorts recently did some demographic work with Twitter and Facebook, establishing that the majority of those who follow Youth Defence (a vociferous Irish prolife organisation) are actually North American, and mostly from the US. He further noted:

The Phoenix recently commented that those operating out of The Life House have made it extraordinarily difficult to get information on their financials. That, of course, is their right. Life House Ireland launched a fundraiser a fortnight before Youth Defence’s poster campaign began. The total raised does not seem to have been revealed, but it will be interesting to view their reports with the IRS next year. Given that their Facebook friends and Twitter followers are predominantly American, would it come as a shock to discover their funders are too?

The question of who funds right-wing lobby groups against abortion is one that’s come up again and again, particularly for MPs such as Nadine Dorries whose prolife campaigning so strongly resembles that of right-wing Americans:

Dorries is supported by the Right to Know campaign, which was established to lobby for support for the amendment in parliament and outside. But neither Dorries nor the Labour backbencher Frank Field, who is co-sponsoring the amendment, nor Right to Know will reveal the details of who is involved and who has funded it. It has paid for a poll of MPs carried out by the private pollsters Comres as part of a lobbying operation.

MPs who are opposing the amendment have called on Dorries to reveal the full sources of the backing for the campaign.

Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said: “It’s only right that people know where the resources have come from in advance of the vote.”

The Christian Legal Centre has open links to the Alliance Defence Fund in the US:

The CLC runs a number of initiatives with the Alliance Defence Fund, a hugely powerful US Christian group that sponsors many Republican politicians and holds a “Day of Truth” in US cities to show “that God created our sexuality to be expressed between a man and a woman married to one another.”

One of the ADF’s biggest donors is Erik Prinze, founder of the highly controversial US private security firm, Blackwater, now the subject of lawsuits over the actions of its employees in Iraq.

Earlier this year [published 2nd May 2010], CLC and ADF supporters met at Exeter College, Oxford, to discuss how British Christians could answer the “call of today’s worshipful warrior”. It seems that for an increasing number, the answer is to be found in Westminster.

I’ve cited this before, but: if you wonder why right-wing politics is so infested with anti-choice/prolifers, here’s Conceptual Guerrilla’s take on cheap-work conservatism:

  • Cheap-work conservatives oppose a woman’s right to choose. Why. Unwanted children are an economic burden that put poor women “over a barrel”, forcing them to work cheap.
  • Cheap-work conservatives constantly bray about “morality”, “virtue”, “respect for authority”, “hard work” and other “values”. Why. So they can blame your being “over a barrel” on your own “immorality”, lack of “values” and “poor choices”.
  • Cheap-work conservatives encourage racism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Why? Bigotry among wage earners distracts them, and keeps them from recognizing their common interests as wage earners.

In the US, Catholic bishops have “none too subtly been signalling their support for the Republicans” – and Mitt Romney’s chosen Vice President, Paul Ryan, “publicly touts his Catholic faith”. But US Catholics are very strongly supporting Barack Obama. (Obama is being described as “the abortion President” because of his support for women’s healthcare/reproductive rights.)

U.S. Catholic Groups Sue To Block Pres Obama's Contraception Mandate
Catholic bishops object to women having an option for contraception included in their health insurance, and claim that requiring Catholic organisations to pay for the cheaper rate of health insurance is an assault on their religious liberty (insurance companies find it less costly for them when women have the option of using contraception, so charge less for contraceptive-inclusive plans) because the essence of religious freedom is allowing Catholic organisations to pay more for health insurance plans that don’t allow their employees to choose contraception.
(No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but if you see a Catholic bishop or blog complaining that Obama is against religious freedom, that’s what they’re talking about: the freedom to pay more so that employees won’t be able to decide according to their own conscience and needs.)

There are no good arguments for making abortion illegal. There are religious arguments that abortion is wrong, but American politicians, whether Republicans or bishops, are stymied in making these arguments openly, because the First Amendment bans the government from enforcing religious practices on anyone. The Telegraph’s campaign against Lyall Duff in May, an SNP candidate they had no particular reason to displace in favour of Labour, seems to have been inspired by a spiteful kind of prolife campaign in support of two midwives who did not wish to provide care to post-abortion patients.

To most people, whatever their personal feelings about abortion, it makes sense to prevent abortions by providing contraception and sex education: it makes sense that if a woman needs an abortion, it should be carried out legally and safely, and the woman should be supported by her family, friends, and her healthcare providers.

To the right-wing politicians who see abortion as a political tool in their fight for cheap-work conservatism, the loss of Ireland as a means of argument for illegal abortion is clearly quite devastating, because they have actually written to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny to demand that he halt any movement towards making abortion legal in Ireland.

Among those who signed the letter is Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs who was forced to apologise last year to Mr Obama after saying that working with him was like touching a “tar baby”. Lamborn used the racially charged term during an interview on a Denver radio station.

The letter is also signed by Trent Franks, a Republican Congressman from Arizona, who earlier this year sought to push through legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia.

When the White House voiced opposition, Franks called Obama “the abortion president”.

The 17 Congress members say Ireland “has been an example to the world” in not legislating for abortion.

“It is our hope Ireland remains staunchly pro-life and continues to give this vital example in Europe and throughout the world.”

Addressing the Taoiseach directly, they say: “We offer our strong support to you in this effort.”

The only Democrat signatory is Dan Lipinski, from Chicago, who co-sponsored a bill to prevent women from obtaining abortions on health insurance unless they had been raped.

William D. Lindsey comments on the demographic data about Catholic voters breaking from the bishop’s campaign for Romney at his Bilgrimage blog:

And from these data I conclude that the U.S. bishops have made a costly bargain–I’m tempted, in fact, to call it a bargain with the devil–in allying themselves with the religious right in the latter decades of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century. In allying themselves with the religious right, whose base is among precisely those Southern white working-class evangelicals whose attitudes and beliefs differ significantly from the attitudes and beliefs of their white working-class counterparts in the rest of the nation–many of whom are Catholic . . . . The bishops have allied themselves with what turns out to be a very narrow constituency of those who do not, in fact, reflect or support what have traditionally been considered core “Catholic values” in any area other than sexual morality.

The bishops’ carefully crafted political alliance with white evangelical Southerners who constitute the foot soldiers of the religious right, and their willingness to walk lockstep with the religious right in its anointing of the GOP as God’s party, are seriously eroding any moral credibility the Catholic bishops have left. This alliance has assured that the bishops are increasingly marginalizing themselves as the power of the religious-right demographic on which they’ve pinned their hopes wanes . . .

But here’s a problem. If the low maternal mortality rate for Ireland is in fact based on under-reporting:

In January 2009, Ireland joined the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) in the UK, an independent charity that for the last 50 years has worked to improve the health of mothers by carrying out confidential inquiries into maternal deaths.

As a result of joining this initiative, a reliable record of maternal mortality in Ireland will be available for the very first time. The first Irish figures will be included in the organisation’s 2013 report.

The availability of true figures will not only inform policy but more importantly, will ultimately save mothers’ lives. CMACE, which examines all cases of maternal death in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, publishes a report of its findings every three years.

So it may be that in 2013, prolifers in the US would lose their lovely argument anyway, that making abortion illegal lowers maternal mortality rates, just look at Ireland. Of course, proper data has long since shown that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer, and prolifers are still pushing that and other lies….

March for Choice, Dublin, Saturday 29th September


Filed under American, Human Rights, Poverty, Women

6 responses to “Is this a right-wing conspiracy?

  1. Matthew Corbally

    A very good article. On the point of the Catholic Church allying with the American Religious Right, here’s an article that goes into further detail on the matter, and gives more context to the Church’s opposition to abortion.

  2. Danny Zinkus Sutton

    Very much enjoying the cheap-labour conservative link.

    • The Conceptual Guerrilla article is just brilliant, isn’t it?

      I use “cheap-work conservative” because in the UK the original phrase has potential for confusion with the Labour Party.

  3. Just wanted to point out that for women seeking abortions in Ireland, while early medical abortion from a reputable provider like is a good option for women under 9 weeks pregnancy, women further in gestation than that or who prefer a surgical abortion, Marie Stopes (that you link to above) is only one option for them in England. bpas ( also has clinics around England and is less expensive than Marie Stopes for those women for whom money is an issue.

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