Staunch abortion opponents in the United States are exporting their policy views abroad, as an American anti-abortion pregnancy center — masquerading as an unbiased health clinic — opened in Belfast, Northern Ireland this week.
A “crisis pregnancy center” (CPC) operated by Stanton Healthcare, a pro-life group with several locations in the United States, opened its doors on Tuesday on the same street as one of Belfast’s few reproductive health centers that offer abortions under Irish law. Stanton’s flagship center in Boise, Idaho is just down the street from the city’s local Planned Parenthood center.
Local anti-abortion advocates and Stanton staff were joined by New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith (R), a longtime abortion opponent in Congress who was visiting Ireland to defend the country’s strict abortion laws at a pro-life conference over the weekend.
In an interview with the Irish Times, Smith described the new clinic as a “refuge” where women “can find tangible help and very loving individuals to help with their difficulty.”
Ireland is already a committed opponent to abortion, and only allows the procedure to be done if a woman’s life is at risk — but even then, many doctors avoid involvement in fear of breaking the law in the deeply Catholic country. Ireland and Northern Ireland’s harsh laws in this area have sparked international outrage. The 2010 death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a life-saving abortion in a Catholic hospital, secured Ireland’s spot on both Amnesty International’s and the United Nations’ blacklists.
Many say U.S. activists may be putting anti-abortion efforts behind Ireland for just that reason: The country is one of the last countries in Europe where abortion is almost completely criminalized. Preventing it from succumbing to the pro-choice policies of its neighboring countries is crucial for U.S. abortion opponents.
In recent years, the pro-life movement in the United States has increasingly turned its attention to Europe, hoping that the international community does not reach a consensus in favor of reproductive rights. Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life — a policy group that writes most of the state-level abortion restrictions in the U.S. — told Politico last year that new abortion rights in Europe would be a “distinct threat to American law.”
And this isn’t Smith’s first foray into international anti-abortion campaigns. In 2011, Smith visited Kenya to condemn its recent decriminalization of abortion. At the time, reproductive rights groups accused the congressman of attempting to “impose abroad what he cannot accomplish at home.”
Rep. Smith, who also is co-chairman of the Congressional Bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus, said Irish women visiting the new pro-life facility would be “cared for no matter what their circumstances” — a claim that’s up for debate when it comes to CPCs here at home.
There are more than 4,000 CPCs in the U.S. — far outnumbering the amount of abortion clinics. These centers, disguised as women’s health clinics, use manipulative tactics to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion. The vast majority of CPCs have no medically licensed professionals on staff, but instead are often run by conservative Christians.
On Friday, California became the first state to tighten regulation on these clinics — but the attorney general has already been handed a lawsuit from opponents who believe it violates the clinics’ right to freedom of speech.
This article initially identified Belfast as a city in Ireland; it’s actually in Northern Ireland.