A Toronto-area woman is currently on the first leg of a four-month speaking tour of Ireland to bring a fresh perspective to the hotly-debated abortion situation.

Emma Maan, 21, of Georgetown, Ont., is the public relations director with Ontario Students for Life (OSFL), an organization coordinating pro-life efforts among the province’s high school students. She was invited to Ireland by the Dublin-based Youth Defence organization, a network of young activists who since 1992 have taken a leading role in the Irish pro-life struggle.

Tour organizers hope Maan’s message will help overcome what some see as a near blackout of pro-life news in the predominantly Catholic country.

Maan is optimistic that students will be especially receptive to her message. “Many pro-life supporters have suggested that the word is not getting across, especially in the classrooms,” she said. “I hope to address a number of adults during the tour, but I’m especially looking forward to bringing the right to life message to students in the 11 to 19 age group,” she added.

Maan left for Dublin March 31 and is scheduled to return July 29. She will be joined for part of the tour by Ada Wong, 19, of Toronto, the vice-president of Ontario Students for Life. Wong is set to depart for Ireland May 18.

During their time in Ireland, Maan and Wong will address a number of youth and adult organizations. The pair will also represent Canada at an international youth pro-life conference in Dublin on June 19.

Abortion remains illegal in Ireland, but there has been increasing support in the media and in some government circles for a relaxation of the law.

Maan said pro-abortion elements seem to have gained control of the major media outlets, especially in the Dublin area. As well, several government officials are buying into the abortion argument. Maan said pro-life voices in Ireland have been made to feel unwelcome in schools and community organizations.

For example, a 30-second pro-life television commercial produced by the Youth Defence group, was banned from broadcast by the Irish Radio and Television Commission. The advertisement, which offered a true account of abortion procuedures, was rejected on the grounds that it was overly political and religious in nature.

A campaign displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses on city streets – similar to Ontario’s Show the Truth tours – have been harassed by Irish police and civic officials.

Maan hopes to capitalize on the positive track record enjoyed by Canadians in Ireland. Last year, members of the Chastity Challenge team, a group of Canadian young people promoting the chastity/abstinence message, enjoyed a warm reception in Ireland.

Funding for the Irish tour comes from a number of sources, including the Knights of Columbus, the Toronto Right to Life association, and Catholic parishes in the southwestern Ontario region.

The right to life message should not be taken for granted in predominantly Catholic Ireland, Maan said. A number of controversial Supreme Court decisions, coupled with scandals involving the clergy, have left many Irish citizens confused about pro-life issues.

National referendum

In 1992, Irish voters narrowly approved a referendum allowing the government to distribute information on abortion. The referendum also opened the door for Irish citizens to leave the country in search of abortion.

Irish pro-life groups have criticized the Supreme Court for misinterpreting the Constitution with respect to the abortion questions. They fear that without ongoing efforts to promote the rights of the unborn child, the country could soon legislation wide open access to abortion.

Human Life International founder Father Paul Marx, has written about the declining state of pro-life affairs in Ireland. In a special report for Human Life International, Father Marx estimates that since 1992, as many as 4,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year in search of abortion.

Maan plans to keep a journal of her Irish pro-life speaking tour, and will share her insights on her return in late July.