The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has criticized anti-abortion campaigners who wait in hospital car parks to talk women out of terminations.

He was being interviewed about a newspaper investigation which showed that American anti-abortion activists are planning to open a sister operation in Ireland to intervene in the treatment of women seeking terminations trying to access GP clinics or hospitals.

The undercover investigation by the Irish edition of The Times of London exposed how a U.S. organization is training campaigners to wait in hospital car parks to target couples to talk them out of having an abortion.  However, after the investigation, the group took down all references to Ireland on its website.

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Martin told RTE radio’s Morning Ireland program that Ireland had very clear norms about protest, and freedom of expression and people’s rights to privacy.

He said, “We have to make sure both of those are respected. People’s privacy is also important.”

A still from the Sidewalk Advocates for Life training video with members pretending to be car park attendants.

A still from the Sidewalk Advocates for Life training video with members pretending to be car park attendants.

He added that in crisis pregnancy in Ireland, he hoped people in proper counseling situations would hear all sides of the story and the possibility of parents keeping the child.

“I would hope the Irish church would be doing more in coming to the aid of people who do want to keep their children,” he said.

Martin agreed with interviewer Bryan Dobson’s interjection that anti-abortion campaigners shouldn’t be offering aid in a car park.

Health Minister Simon Harris was also critical of the plans by the U.S. group. He described their practices as “chilling, manipulative and disrespectful of the democratic process.”

He said introducing new legislation for safe access zones was a priority and he hoped it would be in place later this year.

Health Minister Simon Harris.

Health Minister Simon Harris.

The Times investigation reported that Sidewalk Advocates for Life (SAFL) had set up its first European operation in Ireland with Gianna Care, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy agency in Dublin.

An undercover reporter posed as a potential anti-abortion activist to receive training from SAFL in addition to videos, documents, and footage of the group’s activists operating in the U.S.

She reported that the material reveals a range of tactics to intercept women and coax them into attending anti-abortion crisis pregnancy agencies as part of SAFL “peaceful” demonstrations.

SAFL recorded conversations with women outside abortion clinics in America to use as training videos. The undercover reporter was given documents explaining how to target women using an unproven “abortion reversal” technique, despite Ireland’s Health Service Executive stating that there is “no such thing.”

A spokeswoman for SAFL said that it was a law-abiding organization and accused the Times of planning to reveal its “trade secrets.”  She said that it was “incorrect to say we have plans to put sidewalk advocates in front of every abortion center in Ireland.”  A Times follow-up story reported that SAFL now has no plans to establish itself in Ireland.

Abortion has been legal in Ireland since January 1. Since then there have been concerns about anti-abortion demonstrations outside hospitals and clinics, the latest on Sunday night outside a medical center in Longford town.

Gardai are investigating the incident where the front of the building was daubed with anti-abortion graffiti in black and white paint. 

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