American authorities have received a request from the Irish government to trace anti-abortion robocalls in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar case and the government’s move to bring forward new abortion legislation, The Washington Post has reported.
The calls have sparked outrage in Ireland where they are illegal and punishable by fines of up to $330,000 per offense.
One source told the paper that the Irish robocalls have been traced to an employee of Personhood USA, an activist group in Arvada, Colo., a Denver suburb.
However Personhood USA’s president, Keith Mason said: “I have no knowledge of anyone affiliated with the group having any role in the robocalls. It certainly hasn’t come from us. We’re just asking our volunteers to pray.”
But the Post reports that regulators have “evidence tying someone claiming to be a Personhood USA employee to the robocalls, which were arranged through a web site that offers calling services in many countries.”
Irish regulators say they have information that directly links the calls to websites for Personhood USA and Personhood Colorado, a related group. If so it will be one of the first direct link between anti-abortion groups in the U.S. and Ireland, which have been long suspected.
Hundreds of thousands of households all across Ireland received the unsolicited and automated calls after Savita’s death in a Galway hospital when doctors allegedly refused her an abortion and after the government came under pressure to pass new abortion laws.
An Irish professor who is quoted in the anonymous call has confirmed he has no knowledge of the robocalls and had not given permission for his quote to be used.
The Washington Post reports that Ireland’s Data Protection Authority formally requested help from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which has made curbing robocalls a priority under Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
The report says that the calls, made from a Dublin number, purport to quote Eamon O’Dwyer, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Galway University.
The automated caller claims that Irish doctors do not put the life of a mother at risk, even if it means the unborn child’s death.
Prof O’Dwyer told the Irish Times recently that the calls included a quote from a short speech he made at a conference some time ago but he wished to dissociate himself from the calls. He also said he was not aware his comment was going to be used in a telephone messaging campaign.
Such calls are commonplace in America where robocalls are protected by the First Amendment.
Record complaints have been made to the Irish authorities promoting the decision to ask their American counterparts for help as officials believe the calls are organized by members of a U.S.-based anti-abortion group seeking to export American-style political tactics.
The calls, made in November, defended Ireland’s strict ban on abortion.
Gary T. Davis, deputy data protection commissioner in Ireland, said: “Calling people in this way is counterproductive, but it’s also contrary to the law. If they were pro-abortion calls, we’d be treating them the same way.”
The government has confirmed that the Irish Data Protection Authority formally requested help from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
But FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan said the agency could not confirm the existence of the Irish request. He added: “It is unlikely the commission would assist in a matter that involves non-commercial calls, which are outside the FTC’s jurisdiction.”
The Personhood group has led efforts to declare every fetus a ‘person’ from the moment of conception.