It’s hard to describe the shock and outrage experienced in Ireland upon hearing of the latest tasteless stunt by Youth Defence. In a move which goes against all basic decency, the group parked a horrendously offensive anti-abortion billboard outside the office of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. After being swamped by a torrent of indignation, Youth Defence now claims that the van was not supposed to park there, but was stuck in traffic or having a break and its all just a giant coincidence. Its twitter feed began unleashing attacks upon all critics as though it was the victim. The ad company has since cancelled its contract with Youth Defence. Regardless of intention, the refusal to apologise and the lack of shame over the hurt caused has no defence.
(Youth Defence has shown it has learned nothing by placing anti-abortion posters outside the same Rape Crisis Centre)
Youth Defence is an extreme anti-abortion group with a quasi-Fascist sounding name. It was set up in 1992 in the home of Una Bean Mhic Mhathuna, a woman who had campaigned to keep divorce, homosexuality, contraception and abortion illegal (that these things were illegal in the first place shows that Ireland in the 80s was not a very open place). She condemned feminists (who were working on such radical proposals as equal pay, access to contraception and abolition of the marriage bar) as “fornicators” and “sluts”. She is best known for her exclamation during the 1996 divorce referendum, where she shouted at the pro-divorce side “Go away you wipe-swapping sodomites!” (Ireland sometimes gives scenes you literally couldn’t make up). The group was set up as anti-abortion group to protest the X case decision. I discuss the X case elsewhere, but in essence a 14 year old girl was raped and went to England to get an abortion. Youth Defence was outraged about this and campaigned to restrict her freedom of movement and freedom to information to abortion material (thankfully both issues were defeated in a referendum).
How could such a vile group have support in Ireland? The answer is that they don’t. Studies of their Twitter and Facebook followers found that only a tiny minority live in Ireland, the overwhelming majority live in the United States. Only 9,000 of its 58,000 likes (at time of study, it has since grown to 72,000 likes) or 15% were from people living in Ireland while 69% were resident in America. Similarly, an examination of their twitter followers found that only 14% were living in Ireland while 59% were living in either the US or Canada (14% of their followers had an unknown location). It is a telling sign that most people who are familiar with the work of Youth Defence avoid it leaving it to rely on those who know little about it.
The group is also heavily dependent on American anti-abortion groups for funding (the nature of which it does its best to keep secret). Joseph Scheidler, spokesman for the American Pro-Life Action League has admitted that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been sent from America to Irish anti-abortion groups. However, its secrecy has led to it being investigated for possible breaches of political campaign law. Under Irish law, a group must register if it engages in political lobbying, which limits the amount of donations it can receive and prevents it from receiving money from abroad. Youth Defence has stonewalled these investigations by refusing to co-operate (what have they got to hide?). Unfortunately, the Irish political watchdog lacks the power to force groups to comply.
Youth Defence seems to live in a time warp, like a relic of the 50s. They harp on about the dangers of contraception and benefits of keeping people ignorant of sex like religious morality story that time forgot. It still refuses to accept that women might have a choice over their decisions, instead portraying them as baby-killing villains. This poster gives an idea of their blame-the-women-let-men-decide mind set. They even cling to the outrageous idea that rape is the womens’ fault. It even misses the Magdalene Laundries as though they were beneficial places that kept promiscuous women in line rather than cruel and oppressive institutions of abuse.
Youth Defence argues that women regret their abortions as though the chance of regret justified denying them the choiuce in the first place. In fact, the Crisis Pregnancy Agency found that 87% of women who had abortions still believed they were the “right outcome”.
Lastly, they are wrong. Their claims are false, sensational and hysterical. But most of all, wrong. They are currently launching a media blitz (probably with American money) displaying offensive and inaccurate posters all over the country. Now, I am pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the other side of the argument. Abortion is a very complicated issue and there are no easy answers. It is possible to mount a reasonable opposition to it, that while I would not agree with it, I would respect. I am opposed to the current Irish system where abortions are illegal, but I do not support completely unrestricted abortion. I believe mature and balanced debate can help us find the middle ground that protects women while keeping the number of abortion to a minimum. However, Youth Defence are a disgrace to the anti-abortion cause, whose extreme tactics only discredit their side. They do not try to engage in debate but merely the rants of a fanatic. They produce nothing beneficial to society, only outrage and disgust.
Take this poster here (which incidentally was taken, like most of their photos, from a database without the owner’s permission). How is using a target on a women’s face helpful to the debate? Instead of using logic and reason, they rely on emotionally manipulation.
They further claim that abortion is damaging to women. However their claims of mental health damage are unverified and fall apart upon scrutiny by experts. A host of studies has no found no correlation and Youth Defence fails to provide any evidence of its own. The experts are clear, abortion does not cause psychological trauma, fertility problems or cancer. The only time where women may feel guilt over abortions are in cultures where abortion is unacceptable. These stigmas are usually religiously based and caused by extremists claiming abortion is murdering an innocent baby. In other words, the greatest cause of mental anguish is not abortion but extremists like Youth Defence. Their lies are not just incorrect and misleading, but downright dangerous. The campaign where they claimed abortion was never necessary to save a woman’s life is nothing short of a lie.
The best review of the literature is by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency which states that there is:
“overwhelming indication that legal and voluntary termination of pregnancy rarely causes immediate or lasting negative psychological consequences in healthy women”
So in conclusion, there is no defence for the actions of this vile group of Ultra Catholic extremists and their backward policies belonging to a long gong era. The people of Ireland reject their dishonest and emotionally manipulative campaigns and it is only true the support of foreigners that Youth Defence still functions. Thus we must continue to suffer the fanaticism of people with no shame, for whom there is no depth they won’t sink to in order to score cheap points. They are a disgraceful pariah organisation for which there is truly no defence.