Youth Defence tactics and the Abortion Debate

Last week, I was wandering around Cork City when I came across a sight which turned my stomach. An anti-abortion group, Youth Defence, were protesting outside Brown Thomas on Patrick Street. As well as their usual selection of banners with images of dead foetuses, they also had lots of volunteers handing out leaflets with the same. So far, so unfortunately familiar. There were lots of families around, children are off school and the weather was nice. For the most part, parents were trying to rush their children through the area, ignoring the stands and trying to distract their kids. This was a job made much harder by the volunteers, who were handing the leaflets to the children.

A Look At Youth Defence & Their Tactics in the Abortion Debate

Think of that for a second. Innocent children, who have no vote, no horse in this race as of yet. They are being brought into a political battle that they have no say in. The images that were on these leaflets were distressing, intentionally so. The anti-choice side say that they are images from abortion clinics. They claim that the images are of early-term abortions. In graphic detail, they depict an image of a gory, cruel scenario. That’s not a true reflection of the reality, but it is the one they’ve consistently gone with to promote their message.

My skin was crawling watching this happen. There was a smaller group of pro-choice activists at a table, offering tea, coffee and comfort to those distressed by the images being shown. They showed compassion to all. I purchased a Free Safe Legal badge from them and thanked them for their presence. But it didn’t lessen the feeling in my gut of how wrong what I had just witnessed was.

On Saturday, I watched a video from Claire Cullen-Delsol on Facebook, which she recorded at the Waterford Pro-Choice March. She’s a campaigner with TFMR Ireland, a group which campaigns for Terminations For Medical Reasons to be legalised in this country. In the video, she stated that she lost a baby to a fatal foetal abnormality, and had to wait for her baby to die inside her before being able to end her pregnancy.  You can see the video here. Her story is heartbreaking. More heartbreaking still, is the distress she was put through by the same posters I’d seen the day before being placed all over the area she was in on Saturday. Those images were there to traumatise women who had lost babies, and showed not a hint of compassion. It was a powerful video. It has, unfortunately, led to her receiving backlash from the “compassionate” folks on the anti-choice side, which to me is reprehensible. Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare display, groups like them have been treating women who have spoken out about reproductive rights and their experiences like this for years.

The use of these images in their campaign is, to me, wrong. As a parent, it should be my choice as to when and how I have conversations with my child about difficult issues. My son is three. His world is small and insular, and for the moment, that is how I want to keep it. He knows nothing but love and compassion, the most difficult things he knows is not getting his way at bedtime, or when asking for more treats. We are lucky enough to be in the position that having him in this bubble is possible. I have listened to other friends speaking about how they’ve had to broach topics of inappropriate attention from adults with their kids of similar age, of death, of baby loss. These aren’t topics brought up at such a young age by choice – generally they’re faced with no alternative. The use of images of “aborted foetuses” in a public arena to the population as a whole, instead of just adults with the maturity and experience to make up their own minds is manipulative and a horrible shock tactic.

In addition to the tactics used with the imagery in their campaign, their rhetoric also comes into question. Many “facts” stated by anti-choice groups are either baseless or based on studies with tiny sample sizes, funded by special interest groups. Some of the main players here are:

Abortion Increases A Woman’s Risk of Suicidal Ideation

The Youth Defence website states “Abortion… has been shown to negatively impact on women’s mental health.”. It informs the reader that there is no statistical proof of any women committing suicide because of pregnancy, and that abortion is not considered to be a cure for suicidal ideation. However, it also tells the reader that “Numerous peer-reviewed medical studies have found an association between abortion and suicide. Many others have found an association between induced abortion and depression, which is a major risk factor for suicide. In fact, between 10 percent and 30 percent of women suffer serious, prolonged negative psychological consequences after abortion.”

However, this does not take into account the feelings and emotions felt by women regardless of the choice they take. Regret of an abortion is definitely a real thing, but so is the absolute relief a woman in a crisis pregnancy feels after obtaining an abortion without distress or difficulty. The numbers they are reporting for suicidal ideation caused directly by abortion don’t take into account various other factors leading up to the crisis pregnancy. Papers like this one from the American Psychological Association state that there is no proof that the abortion itself is the cause of this suicidal ideation. However, the same research does show an increase in these feelings after exposure to stigma, needing an element of secrecy about the procedure, anti-abortion campaigners and shaming for their decision. The figures back up a trend of there being an already-present psychological difficulty (whether ongoing or dormant) with those who report suicidal ideation afterwards, which would suggest that it is not the act of the abortion which creates this outright. In fact, there is a noted decrease in the rates of maternal suicide in countries where contraception, legal abortion and lack of stigma about same are practiced. Research by the HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme in 2010 showed that 87% of women in Ireland who had an abortion said it was ‘the right outcome’ for them.

‘Post-abortion syndrome’, a condition imagined and coined by American anti-choice campaigner Vincent Rue, is not recognised by any medical or psychological organisation. ‘PAS’ is listed neither in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders nor the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, arguably the two most authoritative manuals that classify mental disorders. It simply does not exist, and to attest that it does and talk about the harm it causes is at least scaremongering and at most complete abuse of the vulnerable people they are advising.

Our Restrictive Abortion Regime Is What Is Keeping Our Abortion Rate Low

This is only true if you consider our on-our-own-land abortions, because of course if you ban something and make it a crime liable to spend 14 years in jail, you won’t really want to do it in your own back yard. This discounts completely the number of women who travel on a daily basis outside of our country to obtain a medical procedure which is freely available elsewhere.

Furthermore, statistics have proven that restrictive abortion laws don’t actually reflect a reduction in the overall abortion rate. In countries where abortion is freely available, it is notable that the rate of abortion is much lower than in countries where it is illegal. In Western Europe, the rate is 12 per 1,000 women, as compared to the overall abortion rate in Africa of 29 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In the African cases, the vast majority of abortions are illegal and unsafe, yet the rate is steadily higher than their legalised counterparts. The Southern Africa subregion, dominated by South Africa, where abortion was legalized in 1997, has the lowest abortion rate of all African subregions, at 15 per 1,000 women in 2008.

The Irish abortion rate at present is difficult to put a figure on. In 2016 alone, the numbers from the IFPA state that 3265 women travelled to the UK to obtain an abortion, and 1642 pill packages were sent from Family Planning Services in the postal system. This does not include figures of those who travelled to other countries, or those who gave a fake address thus not disclosing their Irish citizenship. However, as the numbers we see travelling are indicative, we can assume that the only major change that will be made if legalised would be the less trauma, cost and stress felt by the women needing that service.

Making Abortion more widely available will result in its use as a method of Contraception/Birth Control.

Many anti-choice groups claim that the legal availability of abortion “on demand” causes women to stop using any form of contraception, instead opting for a trip to the clinic if it all goes wrong. There is nothing to back this statement up. If you look at the figures in countries where abortion is legal and available to those who need it, there isn’t a huge spike in those who opt for an abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute has found that 51% of abortion patients in 2008 were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, most commonly condoms (27%) or a hormonal method (17%). No contraception, with the exception of abstinence, is 100% effective even with perfect use, and even less effective with “normal” (imperfect) use. Punishment of sexual activity by means of not being allowed to deal with a crisis pregnancy is inhumane.


Making Abortion more widely available will result in lots of women choosing late term abortions.

Ah, the floodgates response. We had it with the divorce referendum, and here with the abortion debate we have the same cries. If we legalise abortion, it will mean women will wake up 6 months pregnant and decide “I feel like aborting my baby today”, toddle off to the clinic and that is that. Except, the research really doesn’t back that up.

As it stands, the research shows that late term abortions make up a very small quantity of total abortions carried out. The Guttmacher Institute released a study earlier this year, stating that just 1.3% of terminations were carried out after 21 weeks, with just 5.1% being carried out after 16 weeks. The vast majority of abortions happened in the first 8 weeks (66%).

The reasons for late term abortions tend to be restrictive. In Ireland, if a woman receives an anatomy scan, it is carried out at about 20 weeks. It is in this scan that foetal abnormalities may be discovered, many of them not possible to be seen in earlier scans. Some of these may be Fatal Foetal Abnormalities, which mean that the foetus is unlikely to live past birth, and will be in a lot of pain until then. It is not possible to have pregnancies of these foetuses terminated legally in Ireland, meaning many women and couples are forced to travel to the UK to have their pregnancy induced early. The need to travel lengthens the wait to have the procedure performed; even with the speediest referral, simple things like getting time off work and getting money together, as well as a waiting list to be seen can delay the procedure.

Outside of FFA, financial reasons can hold women back from accessing late term abortions in countries where they are not available and covered by public healthcare or private insurance. Although many countries do not allow for social reasons to delay a termination, in those that do, the cost of acquiring an abortion rises as the pregnancy goes on (as it progresses from a pharmaceutical to a medical procedure abortion). It can take time to get funds together to travel and to pay for the procedure. However, in countries where abortion is available legally, this is not a factor. In those countries, we see the majority of uptake of this service at the earliest possible stage.

Abortions Lead To Women Facing Health Complications in Future such as Infertility, Uterine Rupture.

The Youth Defence literature states a number of different health complications to women who obtain abortions. Included in these are a higher risk of Breast Cancer, Uterine Rupture, Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage in future pregnancies.

However, the statistics in various studies tell a different story.  A study in the American Journal of Public Health from 2013 surveying the safety of aspiration abortions (not medication abortion) found that their safety levels are high. Overall, complications were rare (Table 2). Out of 11 487 aspiration abortions, 1.3% (152) had complications, and 96% of these (146) were minor complications with only six major complications in this survey. This included 2 uterine ruptures (0.0174% of those surveyed), 3 infections (0.026% of those surveyed) and 1 haemmorage (0.0087% of those surveyed). Let’s compare this to the evidence with non-complicated childbirth. A 10-year Irish study by Gardeil et al showed that the overall rate of unscarred uterine rupture during pregnancy was 1 per 30,764 deliveries (0.0033%). This increases steadily in women who have previously had caesarean sections, in particular those who undergo a trial of labour or a VBAC. In a study by Yokoe et al in 2001, in The US, 5.5% of vaginal deliveries and 7.4% of cesarean deliveries resulted in a postpartum infection. These varied from infections of surgical wounds, mastitis, and endometritis to other minor infections. For post-partum haemmorage, the figures from the Royal College of Gynaecology are similar. 5% of women experience PostPartum Primary Haemmorage (losing between 1-2 pints of blood in the first 24 hours) after birth, with 0.6% experiencing severe primary haemmorage. Secondary PPH, which occurs between 24 hours and 12 weeks after birth, affects just 2% of women.

There has been much research done on the links between breast cancer and abortion, and nothing concrete has been found to link the two, in fact, the research has overwhelmingly not found a link. There is also no proof to claims that abortion will damage your future fertility if performed to normal medical standards.

Furthermore, in a look at morbidity rates between childbirth and abortion, legally obtained abortion was found to be much safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion. There is an 8.8 in 100,000 risk of death in childbirth, compared with a 0.6 in 100,000 risk of death in the case of abortion. However, it is unlikely that any GP will ever sit a pregnant woman down at her booking-in meeting to discuss if she wishes to continue on these grounds, it just wouldn’t happen.

With those “facts” in mind, and the images they are using, it is worth questioning just how “compassionate” they are being to the living women, men and children of this country. They say that their ends justify the means, but surely a humane group wouldn’t seek to hurt women? If they truly loved both, would calling women who have undergone trauma murderers and shamed them publicly be top of their agenda? I don’t think so. I don’t think the actions of Youth Defence are defensible, frankly. They openly abuse and belittle the choices women make, and speak of women as if they have no thoughts of their own. They don’t trust women to learn the facts, know their own minds and do what is best for them. Their own moral agenda comes out on top of their priority list, instead of what is best for everyone in the situation.

I am openly pro-choice. I trust women to make up their own minds. Whether that is to have an abortion or continue with a pregnancy, that is their own business and should be up to them and their medical professional overseeing it all. It shouldn’t be decided by a religiously influenced state or individuals from Youth Defence preaching morality calling the shots. It’s 2017, it is time to trust women. It’s time to put the falsehoods and the provocative images away, and work towards bettering lives for the women and children who are here after birth, instead of prosecuting women in vulnerable positions. Not such a hard thing to fathom, is it?


Links and figures are correct as I know them as of July 2017. If you found this helpful or interesting, be sure to share it using the links below to show your friends!

For more information on reproductive rights in Ireland, check out the Irish Family Planning Association.

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    1. Thank you 🙂 I’m nearly cross-eyed from reading studies, my google ads will never be the same but it’s worth it if even one person sees around the rhetoric.

  1. Well done. Articulate, honest and backed up ny facts. Excellent Lisa. Thank you.

  2. Very well researched and written post. Thank you for helping the debate.

    One tiny quibble: to me 66% would be just a “the majority of”, rather than “the vast majority of”. I’d think of a “vast majority” being up in the 80% – 90% range.

  3. More people would support the pro-choice movement if you dropped the word “free”.
    “Safe and legal” would work just as well.

    Abortions should not be free.
    Why should medical staff work for nothing?

    1. Hi Peter, I don’t believe they should work for nothing, I do believe that it should be treated under the public health system like all other medical procedures, paid for by the state and free to the public.

      I hope that clears things up.


  4. Thank you so much for this. I read this after seeing multiple anti-choice sponsored posts on Facebook which are being advertised to EVERYONE over eighteen across Ireland, and even people who are only visiting Ireland. I really, really needed this today.

  5. this is so important !! excellently written, i’m going to save this link as it could be very useful when arguing with pro-lifers in the future…

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