I swore I wasn’t going to write about the Eighth Amendment this week. I wrote about the historical context of Ireland’s utterly dysfunctional attitude to women only two weeks ago and nobody wants to listen to a broken record.

No, I was going to write about something wise my little niece said, or about how a favourite piece of music can save your soul or about how sometimes a night out with a friend can make up for everything the world throws at you.

I really was going to write something nice.

And then things got personal.

Picture by: Becky Butler.
Picture by: Becky Butler.

I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve considered Tara Flynn a friend. Years, now. We met through social media and later, in real life, through various gatherings and book launches. Very quickly, she and her husband Carl became to me the sort of gentle, easy-going friends that you kind of feel you’ve known forever.

Tara is a writer, actor and comedian. She is brilliantly clever, hilariously funny and, above all, exceptionally decent.

“Tara, who is made up of kindness,” wrote Louise O’Neill in the Irish Examiner last week and not for nothing is Louise as successful a writer as she is. It’s hard to sum up a human being in seven words but that’s a pretty good try.

Last year, Tara revealed that in 2006 she had had a crisis pregnancy and had travelled to the Netherlands for a termination. “It is too easy to dismiss faceless stories as abstract statistics and I wanted to see if I could help move the narrative on,” she wrote of her decision to tell her story. “It’s been going in circles here in Ireland for far too long.”

In giving a voice and a face to the Irish women – more than ten every day – forced to travel abroad for a medical procedure which they should be able to have here and which should be nobody’s damn business but their own, Tara showed rare courage indeed.

Of course, if there’s one thing cowards and bullies really hate, it’s courage.

Last week, somebody set up a Facebook page called “Repeal Ireland”. It essentially copied Repeal Project’s Facebook page. Repeal Project describes itself as “an outwear project to give a voice to a hidden problem. Repeal Project seeks to vindicate the rights of Irish women. #repealthe8th”

The person behind “Repeal Ireland” lifted photographs of people wearing Repeal t-shirts and photoshopped the shirts to instead carry incendiary anti-choice slogans such as “Legalise Infanticide” and “Support Violence against Unborn Girls”.

They also lifted a photograph of Tara and photoshopped her t-shirt to read “ABORTED My Only Child”.

That is the calculated cruelty of these cowards. That is the unrestrained venom of some of the allegedly “pro-life” when they don’t have to worry about attaching their names to their actions. I wonder if these are the same people whose anti-choice billboard was once, er, accidentally parked across from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

On social media, we complained to Facebook in our thousands and the “Repeal Ireland” page was shut down in jig time. I’m sure self-appointed anti-choice leaders would be quick to distance themselves from nasty, cruel or downright irresponsible behaviour, but this month saw a revealing discussion on Pat Kenny’s Newstalk show.

Pat’s panel consisted of Cora Sherlock of the “Pro-Life” Campaign, Roisin Shortall TD of the Social Democrats, Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International and the Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty TD.

Cora Sherlock stated “There’s a real scandal happening at the moment where some families are told ‘Your baby may not live for very long’ and they are then being pressurised to consider an abortion.”

Regina Doherty repeated – incredulously – the word “pressurised”. Pat Kenny asked “By whom?”

Sherlock: “Well, you see, this is the thing, they’re being pressured by ah – and if you listen to the stories, they will tell you that they are being pressured by, ah, their doctors, by people around them…”

Doherty interjected “Well in my experience, Cora, doctors don’t do that. They don’t.”

“Hold on, Regina,” Sherlock retorted, “Well in that case, you’re calling these families who have been through that very difficult and traumatic diagnosis a liar.”

“Well, said Doherty, “what I would say to you is that if you are aware that a doctor has ever pressurised a family, I would suggest you go to the Gardai.”

“You know, that’s really, that’s actually quite ahm a typical response, Regina, that I would expect—“

“It’s the truth,” Doherty said, “If somebody has broken the law and you’re not happy about it, well then you should take action.”

“You know,” said Sherlock, “This is not, ahm, this is not the time or place to call those families a lawyer – er a liar, Regina, to be fair.”

“I’m not calling anybody a liar,” replied Doherty. “What I’m asking you to do is that if what you have said has actually happened, I think you should do something about it.”

Roisin Shortall then intervened, saying, “I think we’re in danger of going down a cul de sac, I think, with anecdotes being thrown in here and clearly if –“

(Sherlock: “Well they’re personal stories, Roisin.”)

“If there is a basis for saying that a doctor engaged in criminal activity in coercing a woman to have an abortion, then that should be dealt with through the appropriate channels and I don’t think you should throw it in here in the midst of the current discussion… You have responsibility to deal with that appropriately and report it to the Gardai.”

“As a lawyer, you should be aware of that, of course,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“I think that it’s really important that if we’re going to introduce allegations of criminality on the part of doctors, that those allegations need to be taken very seriously and that it’s grossly irresponsible to simply throw them into the public domain as an assertion rather than do anything off the back of it and I don’t care, Cora, whether you’re a public representative or whether you’re an anti-abortion campaigner or whether you’re a human rights campaigner, we all have responsibilities as citizens within the society.

“And I can tell you one thing: if I knew somebody had committed a criminal offence, I would be ensuring that it was reported and I think that’s your responsibility.”

“I agree,” replied Sherlock, “and I think that they should.”

“Well, you have the information,” said O’Gorman, “I think you should be doing it. You know the family and you have the information. I certainly would be.”

(My thanks to @newsworthy_ie.)

A month on, and Ms Sherlock has yet to respond to repeated questions on Twitter as to whether she has yet gone to the Gardai with her allegations.

It’s worth noting, though, that Cora Sherlock’s Twitter account – which was until now her own – suddenly reads “Account managed by @prolifecampaign. Tweets by Cora Sherlock signed – CS.” (On Twitter, Fintan O’Toolbox quipped “I suppose it’s quite apt that a pro-life spokesperson would have other people making decisions on their behalf”.)

A March 2016 Red C poll commissioned by Amnesty International showed 87% of respondents want abortion access expanded, 72% want abortion decriminalised and 73% believe this government should hold a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The anti-choice argument is lost. Hence the dirty tricks.

Thanks to the Government’s “citizen’s assembly” kick-to-touch, a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment is still a long way off. If anti-choice voices are this vicious and – in the case of their leadership – this off-the-wall now, imagine how bad they’ll be if we ever do get a referendum.

It’s going to be horrible.