Catholic and pro-life news sites have accused Irish actor Liam Neeson of anti-Catholicism for participating in a new Amnesty International campaign calling for the decriminalization of abortion in Ireland.
Ballymena native Neeson, 63, lends his voice to a harrowing short film created by "Father Ted" creator Graham Linehan that asks the Irish government to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution that makes abortion almost completely illegal in Ireland.
Currently, women are only legally allowed to terminate a pregnancy if there is a "real or substantial" risk of death. Otherwise they face a potential 14-years in prison for having a termination in Ireland.
This means that any woman experiencing a fatal fetal abnormality who is told she will suffer a miscarriage or that the baby will not survive outside the womb, but who will suffer no physical harm herself, is expected to carry the baby to term and perhaps even give birth to a child who will not survive. The only other option is to seek a termination in another jurisdiction – as many do. Since 1971, close to 177,000 Irish women have traveled abroad for an abortion – some 4,000 a year.
On top of this, any healthcare provider who is found to be providing those in their care with information on abortion or is seen to be an advocate for abortion can be fined $4,529 (€4,000).
In the film, over black and white shots of graves, crosses, and church ruins, Neeson narrates: “A ghost haunts Ireland. A cruel ghost of the last century … It blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches. Feared by politicians, this is a ghost of paper and ink … A constitution written for a different time. It is the shadow of the country we’d left behind… Ireland doesn’t have to be chained to its past. It’s time to lay this ghost of rest.”
Catholics and pro-life campaigners, however, have complained that the imagery used throughout the film is predominantly anti-Catholic, arguing that “it is a sad culture that attempts to demonize an institution that preaches love at every turn and begs people to treat others as they would wish to be treated.”
Writing for National Catholic Register, blogger Matthew Archbold said, “I expect this from Amnesty International but not the guy who voiced Aslan …”
“ … For an elongated time of the ad, the camera focuses on a cross in the ground, while Neeson says, ‘It blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches.’ All the while, the old abandoned church in ruins stands as a desolate backdrop.”
Archbold then accuses Irish society of turning its back on the Church – presumably regarding this campaign as a follow up to the May Referendum in which Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote – claiming that the Catholic Church is the one institution that is completely committed to the sacredness of human life.
Liam Neeson has called out bigotry & sectarianism in 6C, so it's disappointing he did the voice-over for anti-Catholic #repealthe8th video— Maria Laoise (@MariaLaoise) October 20, 2015
“Make no mistake, the forces of secularization and abortion know who their enemy is, it is the one institution that stands for a radical commitment to love and the sacredness of human life,” he writes.
“Europe was built on the back of the Church, I shudder to consider its future once it has eschewed Christianity … I understand they want to turn their backs on the Church and march away. But the real question is, what are they marching towards?”
Newsbusters.org also accuses the ad of “championing abortion” as well as containing “anti-Catholic messaging.”
As well as questioning the human rights credentials of Amnesty International, they continue to refer to Graham Linehan as being “inspired by his wife’s abortion” in making the film.
Irish writer and director Linehan and his wife Helen did in fact become involved in the project following their own experience of terminating a pregnancy in England, although watching her tears during the campaign video it would be difficult to call it “inspired.”
The Linehans were told 12 weeks into their pregnancy that, due to a fatal fetal abnormality, Helen would miscarry and the baby would not survive longer than an hour after birth.
Speaking to the Guardian, Helen said that she wished to make the video out of a sense of outrage that she would be regarded as a criminal in Ireland for not carrying a child that was to die to full term.
“It was absolutely devastating,” she said.
“And when faced with something like that, the very least you should be able to expect is proper medical care allowing you to move on. It is unthinkable that, had we been living in Ireland, I would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth to a baby that would be dead within minutes."
While pro-life advocates and Catholics have expressed their disappointment in the film, others have applauded the stark way in which it tackles the history of Ireland’s abortion laws versus the health of Irish women.
Yeesh, only now checking web twitter & realising extent of the support we had today. Thank you all so much. Means everything #repealthe8th— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) October 19, 2015
Amnesty International has long been criticized by pro-life groups in Ireland who feel that the organization is abandoning its founding principles by not affording complete human rights to the fetus. Ireland’s main pro-life organization has suggested that recent demonstrations organized by Amnesty in Dublin are a “further sad reminder that the organization has drifted very far from its founding principles and is now a de facto abortion lobby group.”
Sinéad Slattery of the Pro-Life Campaign commented: “They [Amnesty International] constantly berate Ireland over its abortion laws but refuse to condemn horrific human rights abuses like the situation in places like Britain and Canada where babies who survive botched abortions are routinely left in the corners of hospitals to die alone without receiving any medical attention. Amnesty has no credibility reprimanding others on abortion while it refuses to intervene and do something about these barbaric practices happening in the name of ‘choice.’
“Amnesty’s spokespeople are happy to criticize the laws in this country, but they refuse to acknowledge that there are tens of thousands of people alive in Ireland today because of the Life Equality Amendment (8th Amendment) introduced in 1983.
“Some of our most active supporters considered abortion at some point themselves, but changed their mind at the last minute and today cannot believe that they ever contemplated ending the life of their child. There is nothing in Amnesty’s campaign that takes account of these realities or the fact that many women deeply regret the decision they made to abort their child.”
Pro-life campaigners have also criticized what they believe is the one-sided, unbalanced media coverage in Ireland regarding the push to repeal the eighth, blaming it for published polls that show a majority of the population in favor of the change.
A poll completed on behalf of Amnesty in June of this year showed that 67 percent of Irish people wished for the act of abortion to be decriminalized, while 25 percent disagreed,
The polls also showed that 81 percent were still in favor of significantly widening the grounds for legal abortion access in Ireland.
“If there was even the appearance of balance in media coverage of the current abortion debate, then I would be surprised at poll findings like these. But given how astonishingly one-sided the debate is at present, the results are not in the least bit surprising,” said Pro Life Campaign spokesperson, Dr Ruth Cullen.
Should the Catholic Church have a say in forming Irish legislation? Should well-known figures such as Liam Neeson and Graham Linehan make public their political views or is it wrong to use celebrity to attract attention? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.