On May 25, Ireland will vote on a referendum to repeal or keep the 8th Amendment, which heavily restricts abortion. Across the Atlantic, Irish Americans have joined both sides of the debate.
In a recent article, The Irish Times profiled two 8th Amendment campaigners from the U.S.
One Irish American supporting the Save the Eighth campaign is Chris Slattery, who is heavily involved with the Irish American and Catholic communities in New York. Thirty-three years ago Slattery started the anti-abortion group Expectant Mother Care, which he says saved 43,000 mothers from having an abortion.
His Facebook page has campaigned for a NO vote in the referendum, and he has already attracted the attention of the Standards in Public Commission (Sipo) for paying to boost his Facebook ads.
(Sipo bans foreign political donations but there is no law that to limit personal campaigning.)
“I don’t know what the fuss is about. It literal cost me a couple of dollars,” Slattery says of the boosted Facebook ads.
Slattery and his wife held Save the Eight signs at the Yonkers’ St Patrick’s Day parade this year. He says they were prohibited from campaigning in New York’s parade, which was attended by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Given that Ireland has set heavy restriction on broadcasting and advertising ahead of the vote, Slattery says he greatly admires the anti-abortion campaigners in Ireland.
“In our country we have a constitution, and a first amendment that allows us to speak freely. In Ireland you have much more restrictive laws. That’s why the pro-life movement in Ireland is so impressive. Without the freedoms we possess, they have been able to hold strong on defending the unborn for the past 50 years of an onslaught of legal abortion in the western world.”
Slattery is traveling to Ireland ahead of the vote to lend his support for the Save the Eight campaign.
“I’ve always believed that abortion could be greatly reduced in any country by more effective outreach to women. We call it the ‘alternatives to abortion’ movement.”
Campaigning for the other side is Kieran O’Reilly, 25, who set up the Repeal the 8th NYC group two years ago with his partner Aoife and Aoife’s American friend, Amanda.
“I think there was a real sense among people of my generation that we wanted to do something, wanted to build on the momentum we had seen during the marriage equality referendum,” says O’Reilly, who is studying for a doctorate in Mathematics in New York.
The group, which has about 1000 followers, is part of the Repeal Global movement campaigning around the world for a Yes vote in the referendum. The Irish Times reports that the New York-based group runs letter-writing campaigns, and last September, gathered at the Irish Consulate in New York in solidarity with the March4Choice event happening in Dublin the same day.
“Our emphasis is on providing information, both about the referendum itself, and about the rules around voting and getting on the electoral register,” says O’Reilly.
O’Reilly, who has lived more than 18 months in the U.S., will not be able to vote in the referendum; however, he plans to travel to Ireland ahead of the vote to campaign for a Yes vote.