Restrict 'keyboard warriors' in abortion debate

Up to 40,000 people turned out at the annual march for Choice. Pic: Sam Boal/

Reporting restrictions imposed on broadcast stations during referendums should be adopted for the online world due to the “horrible” nature of “keyboard warrior” attacks during the early stages of the pro-choice and pro-life Eighth Amendment campaigns, writes Fiachra O’Cionnaith.

Labour TD Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said Government should consider the move in a bid to limit the potential damage caused by the most extreme elements of both campaigns during the debate on the issue over the coming months.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme, Ms Burton said “the leaders of both campaigns need to make it very clear to both sides” that any debate must remain “respectful” of different views.

She added that the actions of “keyboard warriors” to date has amounted to “online trolling which is horrible”, and potential restrictions should be considered for social media during the referendum campaign.

Mr Kelleher, who is also a member of the cross-party Oireachtas Eighth Amendment committee, said the amount of online campaigning was worrying and rules similar to those imposed on broadcast stations may need to be imposed in the coming months to ensure accurate information is published.

Demonstrators at The March for Choice in Dublin demanding change to Ireland’s abortion laws. Picture: Tom Honan/PA

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched through Dublin demanding change to the abortion laws.

The annual March for Choice was the first major demonstration on the abortion issue since the Government set an indicative timescale of early summer 2018 for a referendum on the section of the State’s constitution that ensures tight legal restrictions on terminations.

Chanting, singing and waving placards, up to 40,000 demonstrators then marched past the historic Custom House on their way to government buildings.

Linda Kavanagh, spokeswoman for the Abortion Rights Campaign, warned the Government that pro-choice campaigners would not accept a referendum that only offered a partial relaxation of the law.

“We got 40,000 people on the streets today,” she told the Press Association.

“All of them are calling for broad access to abortion. That is part of the point we are trying to make — we want broad access for abortion. We are not here because we want a bit of abortion. People who are behind this movement, this change in Ireland, want broad abortion access.”

However, Dr Ruth Cullen, from the Pro Life Campaign (PRL) group, said any change to the Eighth Amendment should be opposed.

“We either protect every human life in our laws or we end up protecting no-one,” she said.

“Once it is conceded that unborn babies are unworthy of legal protection in some situations, it is in effect saying that no unborn babies have any intrinsic value.”

In London, a few hundred demonstrators joined together outside the Irish Embassy in the capital, chanting “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “34 years since 83, stop sending women across the sea”.

A Pro Life volunteer handing out information on Grafton St, Dublin, on Saturday afternoon. Picture: John Mc Elroy

Placards among the crowd carried messages including: “Healthcare not Ryanair”, and: “Irish women deserve better”.

Campaigners sought to make over 205,700 white marks on the pavement to represent what they say is the number of women who have travelled to Great Britain from Northern Ireland and the Republic since 1983 to access a safe abortion.

Maeve O’Reilly, from the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, said: “These journeys, which are often taken in silence and are very stigmatised and shameful in the eyes of our Government, we wanted to make them visible by making these physical marks on the pavement here today.”

Ms O’Reilly said campaigners would like to see a specific date set for the referendum.

The Government has set an indicative timescale of early summer next year for a referendum on the section of the Constitution that ensures tight legal restrictions on terminations.

The Eighth Amendment, added to the constitution in 1983, recognises an unborn child’s right to life.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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