Two Toronto women, recently back from a pro-life speaking tour of Ireland, say the experience has left them more vigilant in defending the right to life of the unborn.

Emma Maan, 21, and Ada Wong, 19, are both active with Ontario Students for Life (OSFL), an organization working to spread the right-to-life message among the province’s high school and university students.

Maan serves in a public relations role and as a classroom speaker, while Wong has been more involved organizing conferences.

The pair toured Ireland between April and June to give a North American perspective to their Irish counterparts. They also represented Canada at an international youth pro-life conference June 20-21 in Dublin. In total, Maan and Wong spoke to more than 1,400 people in five Irish counties.

They agreed that while Ireland is well ahead of Canada and the U.S. in terms of protection of the preborn, there are dark clouds on the horizon.

They noted a number of forces in the Irish republic working to bring about a wider acceptance of abortion and contraception, in spite of widespread concerns about the morality of abortion among the population.

“One of the things that struck me over there was that most Irish young people do not realize the true nature of abortion,” Maan said. “While many young people in North America might know someone who has been touched by abortion, the Irish students for the most part found it was foreign to them. Many were horrified when I discussed with them what actually occurs during an abortion.”

Maan said pro-life workers in North America and elsewhere might envy the Irish for holding fast against the prevailing contraception mentality. “Still it’s sad to see the direction many are going in Ireland,” she added.

Abortion remains against the law in the Irish republic, but recent court decisions have opened the door for Irish citizens to go abroad in search of abortion. As well, the state is moving toward a greater tolerance for information and counselling on contraception and abortion.

The government of Ireland is now gathering submissions from interested parties in anticipation of another national referendum on abortion. As a result of a 1983 referendum, children in the womb currently enjoy constitutional protection. Still, pro-abortion activists and the Irish media have been agitating for change.

Maan said the changing attitude towards abortion in Ireland can be seen in the harassment and intimidation the pro-life Youth Defence organization has experienced at the hands of Irish police and civil authorities. Public protests organized by Youth Defence have been aggressively resisted by Irish police. Also, a pro-life television commercial produced by Youth Defence in 1996 was banned from broadcast because it was considered overly graphic in nature.

Maan and Wong believe the overwhelming Catholic majority in Ireland is a key factor in the country’s attitude towards abortion and contraception.

“There’s little doubt the faith of the people plays a large part in keeping support for abortion and contraception at a low level in Ireland,” Wong said. “But that kind of situation won’t be found in most countries.”

Maan and Wong urged their young audiences to be wary of standard pro-abortion arguments used to legalize abortion in other countries, and to be vigilant against attempts to legalize abortion on Irish soil.