Defenders of life in Northern Ireland received a much-needed boost when National Director Scheidler and other U.S. pro-life leaders visited Ulster October 22-28 as the guests of Precious Life, an organization working to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland. Representing both the Catholic and Protestant wings of the U.S. pro-life activist movement, Scheidler and company spoke to audiences throughout Northern Ireland, warning of the impact of legalized abortion and encouraging the Ulster pro-life activists.
Joe Scheidler joins the life chain outside the parliament building in Belfast
Abortion Still Illegal in Northern Ireland
While the international community has focused on the political strife of this region, the shape of Northern Ireland’s future awaits the outcome of a less well known but ultimately more important struggle over whether Northern Ireland will remain abortion-free. The Abortion Act of 1967, which legalized abortion in the United Kingdom, was never applied to Northern Ireland.
Bernadette (“Bernie”) Smyth of Precious Life says the government in the U.K. have always steered clear of trying to introduce abortion in Northern Ireland because they know the will of the people opposes it.
Derrick Smyth, Ed Martin, Moira Casey, Paula Marrs, Joe Scheidler, Karen Black and Bernie Smyth at rally in Derry
That was true until 1997, when the new Labor government came into power and promised to bring abortion to Northern Ireland. But both Catholics and Protestants continue to oppose abortion there, and so far the Labor government in London has been unable to impose its will on them. In 2000, the Northern Ireland assembly passed a motion declaring their opposition to the 1967 Abortion Act. Smyth says the message to the Labor government was, “Don’t even consider legalizing abortion here.”
Finding the majority firmly in favor of life, a small but determined pro-abortion faction has sought to sneak abortion into Northern Ireland through the courts. Smyth complains, “It’s the same as everywhere else in the world: they use ‘clarification of the law’ to liberalize and legalize abortion.” Since the 1967 Act was never applied to Northern Ireland, a 1938 law that allows abortion only to save the life of the mother is still in force.
Ned Loughran, pro-life activist from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, seen here in October “on the fence” at Slemish, died suddenly of a heart attack Dec. 13. Pictured with Ned are Ed Martin of Ocala, FL, Tim McKinney of Wichita, KS and Joe Scheidler.
A cynical effort is underway in the courts to “clarify” the 1938 law to liberalize abortion in Northern Ireland, as it was throughout the rest of the U.K. in 1967. A key case is pending that may decide the fate of abortion in Northern Ireland. The judgement may be handed down any day. “We are actually on a very, very thin rope at this present moment,” Smyth said.
All of Ireland under Threat
Hanging in the balance are the lives of unborn children throughout the whole of Ireland. “If we have abortion here we have abortion in the south of Ireland,” Smyth explains. “Borderline abortion clinics are being planned.” Abortion providers from Great Britain have been meeting in Northern Ireland to gear up for abortion if the court decision goes their way. Says Smyth, “It will only be by the grace of God if abortion doesn’t become liberalized here.”
Scheidler Encourages Ulster Activists
The abortion situation in Northern Ireland is far more critical now than when Scheidler visited there in 1999. To strengthen the pro-life faithful in the face of an uncertain future, Scheidler returned in October with Rev. Ed Martin of Ocala, FL, a Protestant minister, and crisis pregnancy center director Karen Black of Atlanta, GA.
Scheidler and Martin arrived in Belfast Wednesday October 23rd, did a radio interview on City Beat and joined Black at the Europa Hotel to speak to 100 pro-lifers about pro-life activism in the United States, and how difficult their own work will become if abortion is legalized in Northern Ireland.
On Thursday the threesome traveled to Derry (Londonderry) to speak at the City Hotel. While in Derry, Scheidler was again on national radio.
Joe Scheidler and Ed Martin with Maurice Colgan of Youth Defense
Friday was a free day and the Americans toured Bally-Liffin and Donegal, saw the hill where St. Patrick tended sheep and were treated to an overview of Ulster history by Fr. John Walsh.
On Saturday, they joined more than 100 activists in a life chain outside the Parliament building in Belfast. They handed out flyers and talked to passers-by about efforts to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland. The public was generally supportive of the activists, with little of the hostility typically encountered in the United States.
Their Irish hosts report that the visit produced good results: “We’ve had a real upsurge and commitment from our members,” says Bernie Smyth. “People are coming on board. There’s been a great strengthening here.”
Scheidler Inspired by Strong Irish Faith
Scheidler says he was encouraged by the ardent faith he saw in Northern Ireland. “Northern Irish Catholics are very strong in their beliefs,” Scheidler says. “Long persecuted, their faith has deepened.” He said priests take it in stride that some cannot live in their rectories and that Catholic churches have heavy screens over their windows and walled parking lots, for fear of violence. Scheidler also saw great faith among Protestants, especially in the pro-life movement, which has brought Catholics and Protestants together.
Scheidler was impressed by the Northern Irish creativity in the use of tactics of direct action. In a country with no actual abortion clinics, Ulster activists have instead targeted the abortion referral agencies that schedule women for abortions in England. Nine referral agencies have been shut down since Bernie Smyth founded Precious Life in 1997, in part inspired by Scheidler’s book, Closed: 99 Ways To Stop Abortion. Only two abortion referral agencies are still in operation in Ulster.
Scheidler promised the prayers of pro-life Americans, Catholic and Protestant alike, that their Northern Irish pro-lifers will win in the courts at this key moment. The fate of all of Ireland depends upon it.