Turning the abortion tide

American pro-life ‘veteran’ Steven Ertelt, was in Dublin for the PLC National Conference. He spoke with Paul Keenan

If, in the wake of the summer’s move towards abortion here, Irish pro-lifers feel the need for an infusion of enthusiasm for the continuing battle, they need look no further than Steven Ertelt.

Twenty years involved in the pro-life campaign in his native United States, and 10 years at the helm of the news agency he founded specifically for the pro-life community – LifeNews.com – Ertelt is the very definition of ‘tireless drive’ as he speaks with The Irish Catholic.

In Ireland last week for the Pro-Life Campaign’s (PLC) National Conference – which shifted to the RDS in Dublin following massive demand for tickets – Ertelt is delighted that the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act has done little to dampen spirits for the pro-life cause.

New reality

In many ways, Ertelt stands, for those attending the conference, as a voice of experience in terms of what is a new reality for Ireland. Whether it be topics such as legislative battles, or protest versus education, or media bias on the issue of abortion, Ertelt has seen it all first hand.

It was this latter issue of media bias which first prompted Ertelt to seek for himself the reality of abortion in America.

“I was struck that the media was not talking about the 56 million abortions that have taken place since Roe versus Wade [1973],” he explains of the reasoning which ultimately led him to establish LifeNews, a body, which, in an earlier guise, had operated as a clippings service for the pro-life movement but which drew those clippings from the mainstream media. (Ertelt hardly needs to explain the obvious difficulty in this, not least to an Irish audience so fresh from coverage of the abortion campaign and the story of Savita Halappanavar.)

“Today, LifeNews is one of the leading providers on life issues,” he states, “and we’re reaching half a million people every day.” He cites the group’s team of bloggers and reporters who are seeking out life issues and utilising modern communications media to get those stories out.

In 2013, there is one clear example of the worth of Ertelt’s approach: the Kermit Gosnell case.

First coming to light in January of this year, the arrest of Dr Gosnell at the abortion clinic he ran in the city of Philadelphia revealed what was then described as a “charnel house” of terminations. Gosnell was sentenced in May on charges of infanticide due to testimony from employees that he had no difficulty in killing babies born alive during termination procedures.

The Irish Catholic covered the original arrest and subsequent court case, with much of the information sourced via LifeNews’ efforts locally.

Virtual silence

“It took so much to get the media to cover that case,” Steven points out what was a virtual silence across networks. “Even the big networks did not cover it until the very end, and only briefly even then. We covered every aspect of Gosnell, the clinic, the infanticides, everything.”

In addition to illustrating the information gap which LifeNews now fills, the Gosnell case serves to raise another issue, Ertelt points out, one having potential relevance for Ireland in its rolling out of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act.

“Pennsylvania had great oversight laws,” he explains of the state’s system of checks and balances for abortion clinics. “But those laws were not enforced.”


That, indeed, was one of the damaging findings for state legislators from the Gosnell scandal; as his trial unfolded it was revealed that the state had not been carrying out proper checks on clinics as per its own laws since at least 1993, and Gosnell’s arrest came not as a result of an investigation into his horrendous practices, but as a result of a probe into prescription fraud.

“There is a lesson in all this for Irish legislators,” Steven asserts, offering the same questions he posed to a meeting with TDs and Senators ahead of his interview with this newspaper.

“In Ireland’s case, will panels who approve an abortion be accountable or will it be a ‘rubber stamp process’? Who will be on these panels and who might they be affiliated with?”

Further to this, Ertelt also posed another question for Irish parliamentarians: “What legislation will follow now that Ireland has opened the door to abortion?” He cites issues such as pregnancy due to rape or incest, foetal abnormality. “These are just small steps towards where America is,” he says, adding that another abortion issue, that of sex-selective terminations, is now “not confined to India or China, but is a phenomenon now spreading, America, Canada, Britain.”

(In the week in which Ertelt spoke with The Irish Catholic, Britain was engaged in a heated debate over gender-based abortions, after the Director of Public Prosecutions there ruled the abortion law does not prohibit them.)


Something Ertelt has just said strikes a chord worth pursuing, however. Based on a notable upswing in abortion stories from the US this year in which legislators had moved actively to undermine the liberal abortion regime there, it must be asked ‘just where is America now’?

Ertelt agrees that “we’re seeing shifts” and reports that some 60 abortion clinics across America have closed this year”.

“This year should be a record year for pro-life legislation,” he adds, “and some states are at record lows for the number of recorded abortions.”

Keenly aware of the ongoin debate here, Ertelt agrees that the recent American reality is worth sharing in Ireland: “As we’re looking at the beginning of the end, you’re looking at the beginning of the beginning.” That dark perspective, undeniably true, he moderates with his firm belief that “even in our abortion culture, we’re making a difference. You can too.”

The key for Ireland now is a combination of approaches, Ertelt argues.

Fresh from presentations to students at both UCD and UCL, he stresses the need to “educate” as a key component in tackling current arguments that abortion is pro-woman.

Health issues

“Study after study has shown the negative health issues for women,” he points out, referencing the Silent No More campaign (www.silentnomoreawareness.org) which has given women who now regret their abortion a platform from which to speak of those regrets and their traumas in the wake of the terminations.

“It must be a multi-pronged approach,” he continues, adding to education the need to elect pro-life legislators, the supporting of crisis pregnancy centres which actively help women in crisis and offer alternatives to abortion, abstinence programmes for young people, and, of course, the “on the street component” which, in Ireland’s case over the summer, offered a clear picture at the gates of Leinster House the numbers who remain opposed to abortion in this country.


“We need that,” Ertelt states of such displays of determination in Ireland’s continuing pro-life drive. “Ireland was always a bastion against abortion and that needs to continue.”

Judging by the numbers eager to be part of the PLC’s National Conference, Ertelt is preaching to the converted and, in summing up his message from America, tapping into an undimmed sentiment on this side of the Atlantic.

“We’ll fight for the unborn till we have no more breath,” he says.