Veritas, Cribs, SPUC and SPUCIT
Veritas (the bookshop run by the Irish Catholic Bishops) has just removed the word ‘crib’ from an advert, after RTE reminded them that the Broadcasting Code does not allow adverts for religious ends. But Veritas has form in sailing close to the legal winds. I once got a fundamentalist anti-abortion book banned from Veritas, because it was technically in breach of a mad law that outlawed publishing the addresses of abortion clinics. Here’s how it happened: >>>
In February 1992, Veritas in Abbey Street, Dublin, was stocking an American book titled ‘Closed – 99 Ways to Stop Abortion’. I bought a copy. It was an offensive and insensitive book, and it contributed to creating the type of atmosphere of active intrusion into the affairs of pregnant women that the supporters of the pro-life amendment in 1983 had assured us would not happen.
- It outlined ‘inflammatory rhetoric’ that it advised pro-lifers to use, including ‘holocaust’, ‘abortuary’ and ‘death camp’.
- It described how American pro-lifers hired a private detective to find an eleven-year-old pregnant girl and her mother to ‘try to talk them out of an abortion’.
- It included chapters titled ‘Use the Horror Stories’, ‘Special Clinic Closing Programs’ and ‘Warn the Garbage Man You’re Hauling Corpses’.
- It outlined how to enter abortion clinics pretending you want an abortion, then disrupt the work inside the clinic.
The book also included, in a chapter entitled ‘Receive the Abortionists’ Mailings’, a list of name, addresses and phone numbers of American organisations that promoted abortion.
At that time in Ireland, strange as it may now seem, it was deemed illegal and unconstitutional to publish contact details, including phone numbers, for abortion clinics. And the law was actually being implemented, with British magazines being seized if they included such details in articles or adverts.
As any law-abiding citizen would, I made a formal complaint about the book to the Attorney General, the Minister for Justice, the Gardai and the Censorship of Publications Board. I asked them to take whatever action was needed to ensure that this bizarre law was implemented as stringently in this case as it had been in other cases.
For good measure, I also asked them to investigate the public availability of British, and indeed other international, telephone directories in Ireland, many of which could be used to obtain the telephone numbers of abortion-promoting organisations and clinics.
Myself, my partner Anne and Patrica McKenna (in her pre-MEP days) then formed a group to campaign for this to happen. In honour of the pro-life group SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child), we called our group SPUCIT (Society for the Prevention of Unauthorised Communication of Information by Telephone).
The following week, my late mother called in to Veritas and asked for a copy of the book ‘Closed – 99 Ways to Stop Abortion’. She was told that it was out of stock. She asked could she order a copy. It was only then that the staff informed her that they had been told to remove it from the shelves because of a complaint.
The international phone books withstood our legal assault, but the law itself was eventually changed. However, it’s hard to believe that this was actually the law in Ireland only fifteen years ago.