|Enda Kenny: Irish Taoiseach target of aggressive abuse over abortion legislation.|
Pro life campaigners aggrieved at proposed legislation which would legalize abortion under limited circumstances have been mounting a vitriolic campaign of abuse against Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny in recent weeks.
In doing so they have seriously undermined the cause they profess to serve and sustained images of a vigilante mob attempting to suppress dissenting views through crude intimidation.
The latest in a series of disquieting incidents has seen masked men campaigning outside the Castlebar home of the Taoiseach while his wife and son were at home yesterday before being removed by police.
Earlier that day, Kenny was repeatedly heckled as he tried to conduct an opening ceremony at a completely unrelated commemoration ceremony in County Longford where he faced charges that he was proposing to "kill the unborn" in supporting the Bill.
Last week he disclosed to the Dáil how he had received letter written in blood, sarcastic medals, plastic fetuses, and medical scapulars as result of the legislation, now in draft stage, which would allow abortions to be performed where the mother's life was in imminent danger as a result of the pregnancy.
Despite Kenny's fervent Catholicism, he has sustained his mantra that "my book is the Constitution" and has refused to back down in the face of the often unsavory methodologies being employed by those opposed to the passage of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.
Other politicians have been similarly inundated with phone calls from both legitimate pro-life lobbyists and more dubious vigilante crooks.
One politician described the concerted effort as a programme of "widespread intimidation", saying that politicians had been spat at and people had been turning up at their homes at unusual hours in desperate attempts to convince them to vote against the proposals.
One female TD, allegedly, received a threat that her throat would be cut. should she vote with the government.
Each TD (member of parliament) is estimated to be receiving 50 telephone calls a week from those opposed to the idea -- a relatively vast volume in a country with a comparatively small tradition of organized political lobbying.
Last December the communications regulator was forced to intervene after members of the public reported a spate of automated telephone calls beseeching them to lobby their TDs to oppose the Bill. The 'robo calls' were accompanied by graphic anti-abortion posters, some targeting individual TDs.
Those opposing the legislation are usually referred to as the 'pro-life' movement and comprise a broad swathe of religious Catholic voters as well as those opposed to the idea of any kind of abortion on atheist moral grounds.
They either argue that any kind of abortion is tantamount to murder or that the legislation is the first step on a road towards abortion on demand.
'Pro choice' activists, the legislation's proponents, support a woman's right to chose to have an abortion or not.
The legislation represents the government's decision to legislate on the X case after the untimely demise of Savita Halappanavar. The hospital patient died of complications following doctors' refusal to grant her an abortion.
While pro life activists' views resonate with a significant proportion of the population, even many of their supporters would question the propriety of intimidating members of the Taoiseach's family at their private home.
On the rare occasions where protests do take place outside a politician's family dwelling -- such as a similar anti-abortion demonstration outside Justice Minister Alan Shatter's private residence -- they are usually roundly condemned; I believe rightly so.
Making a case against abortion is a perfectly legitimate activity and on such a divisive issue was guaranteed to happen.
But resorting to the kind of sustained intimidation leveled against public representatives in recent weeks generates endless negative PR for the pro-life campaign and casts them in the prototypical role of agents of the controlling Catholic church which dominated the Ireland of yesteryear.
Leader of the opposition party Fianna Fáil's decision to remove his party's whip system for the vote (effectively, allowing TDs to vote with their conscience and contravene party policy without the prospect of consequences) was an inspired move which removes personal responsibility accruing to TDs and ensures that they won't be forced to compromise their religious beliefs on the issue.
Hopefully the party's representatives as well as those voting along party lines can cast their ballot without having suffered through such abuse.
(Correction: Subsequent to this post being sent for publication, a fathers' rights group, not affiliated with the pro life movement, claimed responsibility for the protest.)