Yesterday, Labour TD, Ivana Bacik made an astonishing claim in the Dáil, saying that she had received “”troubling reports that anti-choice activists are obtaining info on appointment times of women accessing abortion”. She later tweeted a summary of this claim.
Deputy Bacik said the group Together for Safety – a Limerick pro-abortion campaign – had provided her with an “extremely troubling report” that pro-life activists had been obtaining information, including dates and times of abortion appointments (at Limerick Maternity Hospital), so they could “harrass women”.
Serious questions need to be asked about how much evidence to support this claim Together for Safety sought to find before releasing a charge which is, if untrue, a deplorable attack on the character of pro-life activists in Limerick. Deputy Bacik has a similar question to answer as to what evidence she sought before making such a serious claim inside the Dail chamber. However, despite being asked repeatedly to provide evidence of the claim, Bacik has so far failed to do so. Calls and emails to her office this morning went unanswered, as did questions and requests for the report on Twitter.
I have asked the Taoiseach to allow the cross-party @together_safety Seanad PMB pass for the introduction of #SafeAccessZones – particularly urgent in light of troubling reports that anti-choice activists are obtaining info on appointment times of women accessing abortion. pic.twitter.com/UnQNYXppOe
— Ivana Bacik (@ivanabacik) February 9, 2022
It is, as everybody knows, entirely illegal to share private medical information such as the time and date of a patient’s abortion. Anyone working in Limerick hospital taking such an action would be investigated and likely dismissed, after the charge was verified.
If Together for Safety has any evidence of such a breach Then they need to be forthcoming with it. But, curiously, their claim actually raises a very significant question – with the spotlight on the abortion supporters themselves rather than the quiet, unobtrusive pro-life prayer they are targeting.
Reporter for the Independent, Ellen Coyne, called a Limerick pro-lifer this week asking about the ‘report’ from Together for Safety. The charge being made was that pro-lifers were leaked the details of appointments so that they could then present themselves at the hospital to try to contact women seeking abortions.
It was claimed that protests – which have been, in reality, a handful of people walking around the perimeter of the hospitals, without placards, quietly saying the rosary and not seeking to engage with anyone – were timed to correspond to abortion appointments.
But the very obvious question is this: how did Together for Safety know that pro-lifers were ‘only’ there on days on which abortions were being carried out? How did Together for Safety know when the abortions were being performed?
Are Together for Safety saying they had access to information as to when abortions were being carried out? If that is the case, how did that private, confidential, medical information come into their hands? Who gave it to them? Surely that might now be a matter for the hospital – and the Gardai – to investigate.
Together for Safety, of course, are not accustomed to being held to account.
This is the same organisation who issued press releases and made submissions to TDs claiming that women were being harrassed and intimidated when seeking abortions at Limerick Maternity Hospital. The claim was then repeated and amplified ad nauseum by the media and by TDs and Councillors including Labour’s Conor Sheehan who claimed that it was “very, very intimidating for people” to see or pass through the protests he claimed were taking place.
However, when the claims were investigated, things began to unravel fast.
First, the Limerick Post was told by the UL Hospitals Group that it had “received no official complaints from our service users, their partners or accompanying support persons, or our staff, about protests outside the hospital”, regarding pro-life protests.
“UL Hospitals Group is satisfied that there is no issue with regard to safety of access at University Maternity Hospital Limerick,” a spokesman said.
A hospital source said they were not aware of any such protests taking place: “Certainly not intimidatory… there might have been one or two women outside the hospital saying prayers with rosary beads occasionally, but they would only be there for a few minutes and then leave, they were certainly not intimidating anyone”, the Limerick Post reported.
Then an extensive investigation by Gary Kavanagh showed that NONE of the maternity hospitals who responded had received complaints. “We received responses from 16 of the 19 relevant hospitals – none had ever received a formal complaint from any member of their staff or from patients regarding the protests, and none detailed any incident in which protesters had attempted to intimidate or harass patients,” he found.
Astonishingly, the response of Together for Safety to this factual information was to accuse the hospital of acting in bad faith. They accused the maternity hospital of “minimizing the issue or not recording all complaints they receive”
Further, they claimed, “while some people working in the hospital might not view the occasional person outside the hospital saying prayers with rosary beads as intimidating, we would argue that even one person being negatively impacted by this sort of anti-abortion activity is one too many.”
That’s a sudden switch isn’t it – from giving the impression that there were protests harrassing women at the hospital to objecting to “the occasional person .. saying prayers with rosary beads”? Facts are curiously inconvenient things.
So much, too, for the #trustdoctors mantra of the 2018 abortion referendum. When hospitals don’t give the answer that suits the agenda of abortion supporters – even when the answer, from the evidence, is clearly true – then they too are held to be acting suspiciously.
It’s time for Together for Safety to answer some searching questions. How did they know when abortions were taking place in a Limerick hospital – and did they use private medical information to try to smear peaceful prayer quietly taking place for the safety of mothers and babies?
Women have the right to know that.