Given the intensely complex and divisive subject matter at the heart of the referendum debate, the canvassing on both sides was always going to be incredibly emotive. However, the least that should be expected from both campaigns is that the information they provide to prospective voters, and base their arguments on, is factually accurate. To create an argument around ethics, you must extrapolate from reality, and not some consciously inflammatory fabrication.
Yesterday a group of pro-life protestors gathered at Dublin's Rotunda Hospital, one of the capital's three main maternity hospitals. The graphic images on the banners they carried were designed to shock both passers by and those visiting the hospital. This is an astoundingly callous move.
The Rotunda Hospital were forced to call the gardaí to have the few protestors who'd gathered with the signs removed, as the billboard-sized posters, featuring images of dead foetuses, were causing extreme distress to patients and their families.
There is a separate debate to be had about taste, timing and decency. About knowing where, and to whom, it is appropriate to so flagrantly flaunt a political message - needless to say, targeting the patients of a maternity hospital, who may be visiting for reasons beyond receiving the good news that they are bearing a perfectly healthy baby that they were happy to conceive, does not meet these criteria. Beyond this, to knowingly predicate your arguments on factually inaccurate information regarding foetuses, as a cheap attempt to lunge for the heart-strings of voters, is despicable.
The posters that were displayed by this small group, were similar to many used by the 'Love Both' campaign which contend that a nine-week old embryo can 'kick and yawn'. Speaking to Independent.ie Professor Fergal Malone, the master of Rotunda Maternity Hospital - while expressing his disappointment at the decision of the protestors to target the hospital - said that the "idea of a foetus yawning is not factually accurate, because a foetus in the womb is under water and there is no air in the uterus."
He described his dismay at seeing the plethora of factually inaccurate information regarding foetuses and foetal development used by the Vote No side on their posters. While nine week old embryos may display some movement, he said that attributing this to any kind of meaningful consciousness is entirely 'misleading' for an embryo at such an early gestational stage.
Providing medically inaccurate information for the purposes of emotive manipulation of the electorate is abhorrent. Attributing full consciousness to an embryo is both factually inaccurate and a despicably callous thing to say, given that people also tragically lose foetuses to miscarriages at all stages of pregnancy.
In lieu of being able to trust the information provided by canvassing materials it is incumbent on every person looking to vote in the election to inform themselves around the topic. The words of doctors and informed medical professionals should be shaping the discussion around the subject rather than the callous sensationalism of a zealous minority.