The young Americans trying to stop Ireland from voting Yes to abortion
Updated 3:24 AM ET, Wed May 23, 2018
Dublin (CNN)Emily Faulkner is in central Dublin, handing out leaflets featuring fetuses in various stages of development, when she's pelted by an egg.
Covered in yolk, she turns to her fiancé, Nathan Berning, who has a GoPro video camera mounted on his chest.
"Did you get that on tape? Is it on, babe? Turn it on," she says.
As Faulkner wipes the mess from her face, a fellow anti-abortion campaigner approaches her, saying she'll be calling the police to have a look.
"Ok," Faulkner says with a smile. "I'm excited."
With just days until Ireland votes in a referendum on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the constitution -- which places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with that of the mother -- campaigners have become increasingly confrontational in their tactics.
If a majority vote Yes on Friday, Ireland is expected to enact legislation that will allow for terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. A No vote would keep the country's abortion laws -- some of the most restrictive in the developed world -- in place.
But not all of those targeting voters with leaflets, placards and social media posts are Irish.
Faulkner, 23, and Berning, 25, are founders of the Colorado-based anti-abortion group Let Them Live. They've travelled to Ireland for the month leading up to the historic poll to "sway the voters to vote pro-life and hopefully keep Ireland pro-life."
"Basically it's a Roe v. Wade, but Irish style," Faulkner told a group of American students she was attempting to recruit for the journey, referring to the landmark 1970s court case that made it legal for women across the United States to have abortions.
When the couple (both associated with the US-based conservative nonprofit The Leadership Institute) launched a $10,000 crowdfunding campaign to finance the trip, they had written they'd be volunteering with Ireland's Pro Life Campaign. But after they experienced an "unexpected" backlash from Irish pro-repeal groups, who said they weren't welcome and threatened to report them to immigration, they changed that description, removing any mention of joining the campaign in an official capacity.
"We were deathly afraid we were going to get turned away at the gate," says Berning, and "wanting to make sure that people didn't feel threatened by us coming."
Groups dedicated to repealing the Eighth Amendment described the couple's tactics as deceptive.
Faulkner said she and Berning arrived at Dublin airport in early May and told immigration officers they "had no specific plans for the trip other than documenting" the campaign. Once they were let through the airport gates, the pair began to mobilize, designing canvassing materials they described as "information outreach" that another member would carry to Ireland from the US.
The members of Let Them Live are not the only Americans supporting the anti-abortion movement here.
One branch of the national pro-repeal group Together for Yes told CNN its members have heard American accents on their doorsteps. LoveBoth, a prominent "No" campaign group, brought over Claire Culwell, an American activist who calls herself an "abortion survivor" to speak at its rallies across the country in April.
That's a sore subject for the members of Let Them Live, who had been hoping to work in a more official capacity with the No campaign.
"I think there's just a paranoia," Berning explained of the reasons why No campaigners didn't want to get involved with his group. "They don't want to break any rules. For us, it sucks because we want to help them, but for them, they're being smart ... maybe."
Under Irish law, foreign citizens and groups are not allowed to make any financial donations to Irish campaign groups. However, it is unclear if Let Them Live would have been allowed to campaign officially with the No campaign in a voluntary capacity.
Although the Irish government states that "you need a Volunteer Visa to come to Ireland to do voluntary work, eg for a charity, non-profit or voluntary organisation," data obtained by CNN shows that no Americans are currently on those visas. Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality told CNN "volunteering 'per se' is not prohibited by law for those in Ireland on valid holiday visas."
Some Irish are outraged by foreign groups like Let Them Live, arguing that American campaigners are using their vacations to stage a proxy war on women's rights in their country.
Máireád Enright, an Irish abortion rights campaigner and senior lecturer in law at the University of Birmingham in England, is more skeptical of their reach.
"I don't have a legal objection to it but it strikes me as a poor educational experience," she said.
"I would wonder about how they justify it -- whether they justify it as a human rights campaign or whether they are justifying it as a free trip to the 'old country' in which they will engage in politics that I would imagine they would have very little direct personal understanding of."
"Personal engagement on a local level has always been crucial to Irish politics, so that kind of butting in is very difficult to do effectively. So the idea that a foreign group would think they would have much of an impact in the way of direct canvassing strikes me as terribly naive."
On an overcast morning, the Americans huddled in prayer ou