Irish authorities have since come to believe the calls were organized by members of a U.S.-based anti-abortion group seeking to export American-style political tactics to the old country.
The calls, made over the course of several days in late November, defended the nation’s strict ban on abortion amid rising controversy over reports that a gravely ill woman, Savita Halappanavar, had died after doctors supposedly denied a request to have her pregnancy terminated.
“Calling people in this way is counterproductive, but it’s also contrary to the law,” said Gary T. Davis, deputy data protection commissioner in Ireland. “If they were pro-abortion calls, we’d be treating them the same way.”
The Irish Data Protection Authority this month formally requested help from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which has made curbing robocalls a priority under Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
An FTC spokesman, Peter Kaplan, said the agency could not confirm the existence of the Irish request but said, “It is unlikely the commission would assist in a matter that involves non-commercial calls, which are outside the FTC’s jurisdiction.”
The death of Halappanavar, 31, a dentist and Indian citizen who was living in the western coastal city of Galway, galvanized the abortion rights movement there. It also generated considerable activism by Irish and American groups opposed to easing access to abortion in one of only two European nations where it now is banned. The other is Malta, which like Ireland is overwhelmingly Catholic.
Several U.S. antiabortion groups have featured the political debate on their Web sites and challenged claims that Ireland’s abortion ban had any role in Halappanavar’s death. Officials are still investigating whether she was refused an abortion and if her death could have been prevented.
A person familiar with the complaints about the Irish robocalls said that regulators, who have declined to publicly name the group involved, have traced the calls to an employee of Personhood USA, an activist group in Arvada, Colo., a Denver suburb.
Personhood USA’s president, Keith Mason, said he had no knowledge of anyone affiliated with the group having any role in the robocalls. “It certainly hasn’t come from us,” Mason said. “We’re just asking our volunteers to pray.”