The rights advocacy group Amnesty International has launched a high-level campaign calling for the decriminalization of abortion in Ireland, a crusade critics are denouncing as disingenuous and anti-Catholic.
Amnesty has produced a video featuring the voice of Irish actor Liam Neeson, who refers to a “cruel ghost” which “haunts” Ireland. As eerie music plays, the camera pans overs a deserted church and Liam announces that this ghost “blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches.”
The ghost, says Neeson, is “feared by politicians, this is the ghost of paper and ink. A spirit that lives in a constitution written for a different time. It is the shadow of a country we hoped we’d left behind. Ireland doesn’t have to be chained to its past. It’s time to lay this ghost to rest.”
The problem isn’t the Irish constitution, of course. Most of this “ghost of paper and ink” is perfectly acceptable. It is one small part of this ghost—the eighth amendment prohibiting abortion, to be precise—that must be exorcised.
The video concludes with Neeson, who voiced the Christ figure of Aslan in the Narnia movies, commanding “repeal the Eighth,” referring to the Amendment of the Irish Constitution that protects the life of the unborn child.
Even some who have a history working with Amnesty International are criticizing the campaign, saying it is a disloyal toward the group’s founding principles as well as its supporters.
Lord David Alton, who has campaigned with Amnesty on countless issues since his days as a student, says that the new campaign is a betrayal of the organization’s mission. Amnesty, he said, wasn’t established to “take away the protection of the right to life of an unborn child.”
“Their mission statement, crafted by Peter Benenson – their founder and a Catholic – was to speak up for the voiceless and to seek protection for those who are being persecuted, tortured, or whose lives are at risk because of unjust laws and totalitarian regimes.”
Taking away protection of the life of unborn children has nothing to do with it, he said.
“Amnesty’s campaign is simply disingenuous,” Alton said. “Their publicity makes it seem as if they want abortions solely where the baby is going to die,” something Alton insists isn’t true. If you dig deeper, he said, you discover that they want to “remove the protection of the right to life of the foetus. These are their words, not mine,” he said.
“I wonder what Peter Benenson would have had to say about this campaign? He’d probably be asking them to remove him name from the building, Benenson House, which houses Amnesty’s headquarters,” he added.
Other critics have gone further still, suggesting that the Amnesty advert is really a frontal attack on the Catholic Church.
Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Tim Stanley declares that the campaign goes beyond an effort to reverse Ireland’s abortion laws, and looks more like a “campaign to exorcise the Catholic Church from Ireland.”
Stanley notes that in their ad, the Amnesty folks don’t quote statistics or talk about health or show even a single image of a woman. “No,” he writes, “they focus straightforwardly on the ghastly, nasty Catholic Church.”
Amnesty’s own rhetoric against the eighth amendment seems to give credence to critics’ concerns. They lament that the Amendment gives the unborn foetus equal right to life as the life of the mother, a principle “deeply rooted in religious doctrine.” They fail to note the other principles enunciated in the Constitution “rooted in religious doctrine,” such as the sacredness of human life, the principle of human equality, the rights of the individual against the state and the right to private property.
For over 30 years, Amnesty states, the Eighth Amendment has had a negative impact on the quality of healthcare for all pregnant women, “denying its women and girls their right to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination, information, free speech and freedom from torture.”
As dubious as these claims no doubt are, one fact remains patently clear: the Eighth Amendment has saved the lives of countless Irish citizens who wouldn’t be around to enjoy their rights if they had been aborted.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome