In May, Ireland will vote on a referendum to determine whether or not to legalize abortion. The country currently has a near-total ban on abortion, with the only exception being when a pregnant person's life is at risk, but the referendum could repeal this ban if enough people vote in favor of it. But as the vote approaches, anti-abortion protesters have taken to the streets in Dublin — and not all of them are Irish. In fact, there are some Americans protesting abortion in Ireland, sparking concerns of foreign influence on the upcoming referendum.
Ireland's prime minister, Leo Varadkar, has called for reforms to the country's current abortion laws. He recently pointed out that the near-total ban has resulted in abortions that are "unsafe, unregulated and illegal." However, that hasn't stopped a small but highly visible anti-abortion group called the Irish Center for Bio-Ethical Reform from protesting outside Parliament, as well in front of media buildings, universities, human rights groups' offices, and airports.
According to The New York Times, only three of the group's members are Irish; the rest are primarily American.
“We try to be as multinational as the abortion industry, and they make no apologies for sending in their international affiliates to pontificate to the Irish people,” group leader Jean Engela told The New York Times.
American influence on the Irish abortion referendum doesn't stop with a few protesters, and it is not limited to the anti-abortion side of the debate. The Irish Times reported last month that overseas backers were purchasing social media advertising pertaining to the referendum.
Moreover, according to The New York Times, two abortion rights groups — Amnesty International Ireland and the Abortion Rights Campaign — were recently ordered by an ethics regulator to return large grants to George Soros' Open Society Foundations. The regulator banned the grants, arguing that they qualified as foreign political donations that could impact the outcome of the referendum.
Meanwhile, there have been reports for years that the American anti-abortion lobby is funneling money into Ireland, though there hasn't been any confirmation that they've thrown their weight behind any campaigns related to this particular referendum. In 2012, Joseph Scheidler — the spokesman for the U.S.-based Pro-Life Action League — told an Irish newspaper that his organization was monetarily supporting the Irish pro-life group Youth Defence because Ireland was one of the last places in Europe with such a firm abortion ban in place.
Ireland's current abortion law is the result of a vote in 1983, when 67 percent of the population voted in favor of an eighth amendment to Ireland's constitution that banned abortion even in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the baby. At that point, abortion had already been illegal in Ireland for more than a century; this amendment simply made the abortion ban more comprehensive.
According to The Economist, roughly 60 percent of the Irish population is projected to vote to repeal the eighth amendment. Varadkar has proposed that a new law be put in place following the repeal to legalize abortion up until the 12th week of abortion. The Irish prime minister has also been vocal about the dangers the current abortion law poses to people seeking an abortion, either illegally or in other countries.
But though Ireland seems to be slowly making its way to more relaxed laws concerning abortion — if not with this referendum, then perhaps in the future — the possibility of foreign influence remains a major cause for concern. This is especially true following the recent news that voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica reportedly exploited voters' Facebook data to influence both the American presidential election and the Brexit referendum.
Reports of American anti-abortion protesters, as well as of American donations to Irish abortion rights organizations, are therefore being regarded with suspicion across Ireland.