By Jonathon Van Maren
May 15, 2018
Our second day on the Vote No Roadshow was very encouraging. Leaving the activity centre we were staying at in the bus at 8:15 AM, we headed from town to town through the Westmeath-Longford area, beginning in the tiny town—“It’s a village,” one lady walking past corrected with a smile—of Delvin, which like every other hamlet features its own castle, a Norman fortress originating from 1172. St. Patrick apparently traveled through here centuries ago, preaching Christianity to the pagans. Today, pro-life activists in bright-red “Vote No!” hoodies covered the small downtown, engaging the townspeople and urging them to come out on May 25 and vote to protect the 8th Amendment. Most nodded and told us that was their plan.
Part of the strategy of the Vote No Roadshow, Tim told us, is to encourage the many “No” voters who have been persuaded by the media that the entire country is pro-abortion to be more vocal and show them that they are not alone by being a visible presence in the small towns and villages that ordinarily get ignored by canvassers and get-out-the-vote campaigns. (Tim, the roadshow’s main coordinator, quit his job several months before the referendum to work nonstop to save the 8th—“We’ve got to leave it all on the field,” he said.) Many people thanked us for coming out, and for specifically coming to their town.
Today people seemed cheery—the previous night had featured a debate between campaigners from the “No” and “Yes” side on RTE, in which Dr. John Monaghan had informed Dr. Peter Boylan, a prominent abortion campaigner, that if he didn’t know that a baby was fully developed at 12 weeks that “maybe you need to go back to school.” The lounge of the activity centre crowded with pro-life activists crouched around a cellphone streaming the debate had erupted into cheers, fist pumps, and howls of laughter. “He got schooled!” Andy declared. “Smashed!” agreed another. The mood was jovial as everyone headed off to bed.
Today on the streets, “No” voters referred to last night’s debate often. “It was good for us,” one bearded fellow told us, nodding vigorously. “Swung a lot of people our way, I think.” That seems to be the consensus among those who heard it—and the pro-abortion media obviously felt so, as well. Abortion-supporting talk show hosts and media personalities were already declaring the debate “unhelpful,” by which they of course mean unhelpful to their cause. One woman in the audience had described holding her miscarried child, who was around 12 weeks gestation—a child that had a smile on her face. What are you going to do with the precious little bodies after the abortions? the woman demanded, to gasps from the audience. The moderator rushed to inform Boylan that he didn’t have to answer the question. The final query of the debate had also really struck home: “Why, around the country, does the word ‘abortion’ not appear on a single ‘Yes’ campaign sign?” Again, there was no answer.
The responses to the Roadshow were almost entirely positive—at least those I interacted with—as we wound from Delvin to Mullingar, from Mullingar through several small villages on to Athlone, and then Edgeworthstown, ending the day’s tour in Longford at 8 PM. One woman told us that a “No” canvasser had told her that if each pro-lifer convinced four people to vote “No,” they’d save the 8th Amendment—and so she had. Part of the Save the 8th push is just that—to persuade pro-lifers to be open about their beliefs and to persuade their friends to vote in the referendum. Now is the time to speak, one local pro-life leader told us. If Ireland loses the 8th, there will never again be another opportunity to keep abortion out. Then, the Irish pro-life movement will be forced into the position of pro-lifers in other Western countries—trying to contain the killing.
The Vote No Roadshow team definitely feels the urgency. They pass leaflets through car windows to drivers, and approach every pedestrian. Andy and a few others had been bugging William, a younger volunteer, about his shaggy hair. He was cheered loudly when he showed up at the bus with a haircut—and got laughter and applause when he announced with a grin: “And I got the barber votin’ ‘No!’” One middle-aged red-haired gentleman in Longford told me that he’d never canvassed or hit the streets for anything—but now was the time for action. There is only ten days left before the referendum, and those who have remained silent until now are struck with the fact that the pro-life Ireland they took for granted may be slipping away. Ray, who I met in Mullingar, had sold his business months before and was living off his savings as he canvassed with volunteers he recruited from door to door. Nearly every lamppost in his town featured multiple pro-life signs. “Our first strategy was to own the skyline and put up so many signs that the abortion people didn’t have room for theirs,” he said, gesturing proudly. And it had worked—all the way down the streets in every direction, the word “NO” stood out as far as the eye could see.
After a long day of campaigning, everyone piled back on the bus. After stories were exchanged with laughter and loud ribbing, people began to fall silent. As the bus pulled into the countryside, I turned around to take a look—and nearly everyone was fast asleep.