By Kevin Jones
Facing legal scrutiny over foreign funding of efforts to fight Ireland’s anti-abortion law, a pro-abortion group has returned a $25,000 grant to billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
But Cora Sherlock, spokesperson for the Pro Life Campaign, fears the grant to the Ireland-based Abortion Rights Campaign was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
“There is no question this was politically motivated funding,” she told CNA April 5. “I think it is a good thing that the money was returned but there are still outstanding questions that have not be answered.”
In August 2016, CNA broke the news of documents that had been reportedly hacked from Open Society Foundations and posted to the site DCLeaks.com.
These documents showed a strategy proposal for the foundations’ Women’s Rights Program to fund the Abortion Rights Campaign, Amnesty International Ireland, and the Irish Family Planning Association “to work collectively on a campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional amendment granting equal rights to an implanted embryo as the pregnant woman (referred to as ‘fetal personhood’).”
That same month, the Republic of Ireland’s Standards in Public Office began to examine whether the funding violated Irish law, according to the newspaper The Irish Catholic, which cited documents released under a freedom of information act request.
Irish law forbids campaign groups accepting more than 100 Euro in donations from foreign sources that could be used for domestic political purposes.
Irish officials repeatedly sought copies of correspondence between the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Open Society Foundations, including its funding application.
The Abortion Rights Campaign was reluctant to hand over these documents.
It initially claimed all funding for political purposes had been revealed, The Irish Catholic reported. After another request, it invoked European Convention on Human Rights protections and maintained the grant was not for political purposes. The group claimed that providing the grant application and other correspondence would violate the European human rights convention and raise questions about confidentiality.
By November 2016, the Standards in Public Office threatened to report the campaign to Ireland’s national police if it did not turn over the relevant documents. The Abortion Rights Campaign then agreed to provide the documents while protesting the way the law was being applied.
The documents suggested that the campaign’s own grant application to the Open Society Foundations was conscious of political purpose.
According to the application, the purpose of is project was “to engage, energize, mobilize and provide self-education opportunities on issues of sexual health, reproductive rights and abortion in Ireland with a strategic goal of garnering support for repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, reducing abortion stigma, and increasing grass roots engagement.”
The Abortion Rights Campaign agreed to return the grant, but it reiterated its disagreement with the officials’ interpretation of the law.
Sherlock said there are “numerous” international pro-abortion rights groups and foundations besides the Open Society Foundations that have funded, or wish to fund, the movement against Ireland’s abortion law.
“A concern I would have is that international pro-abortion foundations have already contributed vast sums of money to ‘Repeal the Eighth’ groups in Ireland and it just so happens that some of the Soros funding has come to light under the DC Leaks exposé,” she said. “The sums of money given by the Open Society Foundations alone to Amnesty Ireland and the Irish Family Planning Association are far from insignificant. Hundreds of thousands of Euro have been transferred to these groups and I would fear this is the tip of the iceberg.”
Sherlock said she found it “very hard” to believe the other groups did not receive politically motivated funding. In her view, the DC Leaks documents “clearly showed that the funding from the Soros Foundation to these groups was intended to influence the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.”
In response to The Irish Catholic report in March 2017, the Abortion Rights Campaign said that the grant was intended “to fund educational and stigma-busting projects.”
“Our focus remains on advocating for reproductive rights while striving to lift the stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland,” said the group’s spokesperson Linda Kavanagh.
The Republic of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, passed by voters in 1983, acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
The Open Society Foundations documents suggested that the foundations saw any pro-abortion rights success in Ireland as a model to change pro-life laws in other Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland. It also noted support for pro-abortion efforts in Mexico, Zambia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and other parts of Latin America and Europe.
The strategy document said the foundations’ actions from 2016-2019 would aim to generate “a robust set of organizations advancing and defending sexual and reproductive rights and injecting new thinking/strategy into the field.”
Other documents on the DCLeaks.com website showed the Open Society Foundations collaborating with Planned Parenthood, the Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Alliance in a multi-million dollar campaign to respond to videos that appeared to expose the abortion performer’s involvement in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts for profit.