In the run-up to Ireland’s general election next spring, one of the biggest issues is quickly becoming whether the country will vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which places a near-total ban on abortion. Liam Neeson recently did a voiceover for an ad advocating that the law be repealed, leading to an epidemic of hurt feelings among anti-abortion activists.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the pregnant person’s life is threatened. The Eighth Amendment was specially passed in 1983 to make sure abortion remained illegal even if the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which also banned the procedure, was somehow voided. The Eighth, also known as Article 40.3.3, reads:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
But Al Jazeera reports that legal abortion has become “increasingly ubiquitous talking point in Ireland,” with prominent actors and artists, the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Amnesty International calling for the Eighth Amendment’s repeal in the election next year.
Amnesty’s Irish chapter has been calling for years for abortion to be decriminalized, and is gathering support on Twitter under the hashtags #Repealthe8th and #Notacriminal. Neeson provided the voiceover for the ad, “Chains,” which calls the law “a cruel ghost of the last century.”
“A ghost haunts Ireland,” Neeson intones. “A cruel ghost of the last century, still bound to the land. It blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches. Feared by politicians, this is a ghost of paper and ink. A spirit that lives in the Constitution, written for a different time. It is the shadow of the country we’d hoped we’d left behind. Ireland doesn’t have to be chained to its past. It’s time to lay this ghost to rest. Repeal the Eighth.”
The National Catholic Register has decided that the ad is bigoted in nature, claiming the “ghost” being referred to is the Catholic Church, because of imagery of the ruins of a church and a cross (or grave marker, it would seem) in the foreground.
Matthew Archbold writes that it “reeks of anti-Catholicism,” and seems particularly excised that Neeson, “the guy who voiced Aslan,” would participate in it:
Make no mistake, the forces of secularization and abortion know who their enemy is, it is the one institution that stands for a radical commitment to love and the sacredness of human life. Europe was built on the back of the Church, I shudder to consider its future once it has eschewed Christianity. It is a sad culture that attempts to demonize an institution that preaches love at every turn and begs people to treat others as they would wish to be treated. I understand they want to turn their backs on the Church and march away. But the real question is, what are they marching towards?
Dave Andrusko, editor of National Right to Life News, is also fairly certain that the ad’s “ghost” is actually the Catholic church, writing, “The whole point of the ad is that the Church–the Catholic Church–is outdated and abandoned by the people and therefore its evil, outdated influence on the Constitution must be removed.”
Katie Yoder at Newsbusters is also very upset, calling Amnesty International a “self-described human rights group” and writing that the ad contains “anti-Catholic messaging.”
The ad was produced by Amnesty in partnership with actor Graham Linehan and his wife Helen, who were forced to abort a pregnancy in 2004 after learning that the fetus had no chance of survival. Helen was able to have the abortion in London; if they’d been at home in Ireland, she told the Guardian, she would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term and watch her infant die in front of her. She calls the Eighth Amendment “abusive.”
“It is a form of abuse against women,” she told the paper. “We need to have our own choices. If men had babies, the laws would be very different.”
Seemingly unaware that the couple helped to write the ad, the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley also claimed it was “anti-Catholic” writing that its makers are “exploiting” the Linehans’ story: “They look like they are exploiting the tragedies of people like the Linehans for the sake of a political campaign against a Church that is already dying in influence.”
Linehan briefly responded by pointing out that he’s not, er, exploiting himself:
Neeson hasn’t publicly responded to the criticisms that he’s a mean Catholic Church hater. But given that he was raised in a Roman Catholic family, named after the local priest, and has described acting as “a form of prayer,” that one also seems unlikely.
Neeson pictured in March 2015. Photo via AP Images