Referendum special shows that when debates are balanced, the pro-abortion side loses
15 May 2018
Maria Steen of the Iona Institute heads a strong pro-life side.
"The No side was better prepared and better organised for the debate."
On Monday night, Irish state broadcaster RTE held a televised debate on the forthcoming referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment - a debate widely recognised to have been a triumph for the pro-life side.
Clare Byrne Live held a referendum special, featuring three panellists each from the "Yes" side seeking to repeal the Eighth Amendment and legislate for abortion, and the "No" side fighting to retain it and protect the equal right to life of the unborn child. Questions and interventions were also taken from members of the audience, including from doctors, lawyers and politicians.
The response on social media showed that the No side were delighted with how the debate went, while Yes supporters either expressed worry or complained about the format or tone of the show.
RTÉ has defended the show against accusations of bias from Repeal campaigners, saying that it gave an equal opportunity for both sides to air their arguments. "Impartial analysis of Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special will show that when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the airtime afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views," a spokesperson said.
A win for the No side
The Irish Times described the evening as a "much needed fillip" for the No side, while "the Repeal response to the debate can perhaps best be judged by its decision last night to lodge a formal complaint to RTÉ about the debate."
"The No side was better prepared and better organised for the debate and, in Maria Steen of the Iona Institute, they had the best performer on the night," the article went on. However, Dr Peter Boylan, one of the most prominent Yes campaigners, "confronted by an audience that was partially hostile, another obstetrician and the debating skills of Ms Steen, had an uncomfortable time."
"Go back to school"
One of the most shared segments of the night was when pro-life obstetrician Dr John Monaghan bested Dr Boylan in an exchange about the development of the unborn baby. When an emotional audience member asked whether the baby she lost at 14 weeks was a fully formed person, he replied "no". Dr Monaghan then read out the NHS description of a baby at 12 weeks.
There were also strong interventions from GPs in the audience. One spoke of the harm she had seen abortion do to women when she practised in the UK, and another slammed the requirement in the proposed legislation for a pro-life doctor to refer a woman requesting abortion to another doctor. "I would have to refer to a colleague who would end the life of one of my patients. That is not acceptable." A colleague agreed saying, "that is not conscientious objection."
Exposing the Yes campaign
Widely recognised as the best performer of the night, Maria Steen of the Iona Institute was constantly able to hammer home the legal points, which exposed the Yes campaign's misinterpretation of the proposals.
As John McGuirk of the Save the 8th campaign tweeted, "when debates are balanced, the yes side loses".
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