By Kevin Jones
Wealthy abortion backers could use Ireland as a model to change pro-life laws in other Catholic countries, an apparent leaked three-year plan for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations suggests.
“With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places,” the document says.
It also cites support for pro-abortion efforts in Mexico, Zambia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and other parts of Latin America and Europe. The document particularly targets constitutional protections for the right-to-life from conception.
The New York-based Open Society Foundations’ proposed 2016-2019 strategy for its Women’s Rights Program appears to be among the documents published by the website DCLeaks.com. The website claims the documents are from the globally influential foundations begun by billionaire financier George Soros. In 2015 Forbes magazine estimated Soros’ net wealth at $24.5 billion, ranking him the sixteenth wealthiest man in the U.S.
One of the program’s three themes is enabling access to legal abortion, including through efforts to repeal Ireland’s Eighth Amendment to its constitution.
The 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’ apparent strategy proposal says that it will 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’).”
Cora Sherlock, deputy chairperson of the Ireland group the Pro-Life Campaign, reflected on the strategy document.
“This is devastating news if true,” Sherlock told CNA in August 2016. “One thing is certain. Those pushing abortion in Ireland have vast resources that they didn’t have just a few years ago. The money is not being raised from ordinary Irish citizens. That is for sure.”
“The idea that an outside body would fund and organize groups in Ireland to dismantle Ireland’s protection for the unborn child would represent a gross interference and total contempt for the Irish people.”
She said it is “extremely difficult” for Irish pro-life advocates to compete, given the funding for efforts to repeal Ireland’s Eighth Amendment. She called on the pro-abortion groups named in the document to clarify their relationship to the alleged funding.
“It is not a surprise that international pro-abortion groups are trying to impose their agenda on Ireland,” she said. “Ireland’s excellent record of safety in pregnancy for women without recourse to abortion is a major source of embarrassment to abortion campaigners as it completely undermines their argument that abortion somehow helps women.”
She praised Ireland’s constitutional protections for the unborn.
“Thousands of Irish citizens are alive today thanks to this law,” Sherlock said. “In addition to this, Ireland has demonstrated that it’s possible to ban abortion and also be a world leader in protecting the lives of pregnant women.”
The alleged Soros foundations’ proposed strategy to fight the Republic of Ireland’s pro-life law says the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland offers “valuable and timely opportunities to advance the campaign.”
Its next three years of activity are intended to pilot strategies to “stem, mitigate and reverse the tide of fetal personhood laws and constitutional amendments” and to generate “a robust set of organizations advancing and defending sexual and reproductive rights and injecting new thinking/strategy into the field.”
A spokesperson for the Open Society Foundations did not comment on the specific document, but told CNA that a number of internal documents were published “after being removed from an online community that served as a resource for our staff, board members, and partners across the world.”
“In some cases, the materials reflect big-picture strategies over several years from within the Open Society Foundations network, which supports human rights and the rule of law in more than 100 countries around the world.
“The Open Society Foundations work in many countries to promote full and equal rights for women, including sexual and reproductive autonomy,” the spokesperson continued, characterizing the incident as an apparent symptom of “an aggressive crackdown on civil society and human rights activists that is taking place globally.”
“We stand by our work and are proud to support all our grantees,” the spokesperson said.
The alleged strategy document appears to provide a window on the foundations’ other funded projects and its larger goals.
It pledges support for the Mexican pro-abortion group El Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE). It acknowledges current support for the International Women’s Health Coalition, the Center for Reproductive Rights, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and Women on Web.
It plans to fund the Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, citing the work of academic Charles Ngwena on the subject of reproductive rights and the law. It aims to encourage a partnership between this center and the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa spinoff the Southern Africa Litigation Center to provide internship or fellowship placement for students.
The document criticizes large donors in women’s rights like the Gates Foundation, the U.S. government, and a number of corporations for allegedly focusing on “individual empowerment” that serves development goals.
“The handful of donors that do support structural transformation of political and economic systems have comparatively fewer resources,” the document says.
According to the document, the Women’s Rights Program characterizes itself as “a small program in a foundation that encourages risk taking and backing new issues, actors, and strategies.”
“Our distinctive role is to take on the controversial issues avoided by other larger donors, particularly on women’s sexuality and reproduction,” it says.
The document says the program is different from most donors because it can work with “a network of locally-staffed foundations in over 40 countries and seven regions” that has “a deep knowledge of local context, opportunities, and frontline actors.” The Open Society Foundations’ network allows the program “to make cross-country/regional connectionism,” it says.
The alleged strategy document also has other focuses of concern, such as maternal mortality, the treatment of pregnant women, child marriage, violence, access to economic resources and drug policy.
In addition to the theme of “sexual and reproductive rights,” the strategy also includes goals like economic justice and the strengthening of women’s rights organizations and movements.
However, these goals are linked to abortion advocacy.
“We see these goals as interconnected, because in order for women to take their full place as citizens, they must be able to control their bodies, have a level of economic security that enables public participation, and have the ability to advocate for themselves,” the document says.
The foundations’ supported feminist groups include the FRIDA fund and the Mexico-based El Closet de Sor Juana. Its Eurasia Program also targets Eastern Europe, the South Caucuses and Central Asia.
The goal of the 2016-2019 funding period is to “develop or deepen national level strategies pushing for accountability in commitments to women’s rights,” to develop a “deeper bench” of women’s rights organizations that can undertake efforts on the national level; and to identify “a new generation of leaders to infuse energy into the field while building on the success of the past,” according to the leaked document.
Some security experts say DCLeaks.com has the hallmarks of Russian intelligence, Bloomberg News reports. The Open Society Foundations reported a security breach to the FBI in June. A security firm investigation reportedly found the intrusion was limited to an intranet system used by the foundations’ board members, staff and foundation partners.