Republic of Ireland news

Abortion referendum has split opinion across island

Michael McHugh, Press Association

THE abortion referendum has split opinion across the island.

The topic is considered one of the most divisive and difficult subjects in public life, and has prompted posters with graphic post-abortion scenes on the streets of Dublin, erected by the No camp.

The Republic has one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in Europe, a legacy of the influence of the Catholic Church and a conservative attitude by generations past towards the matter.

While repealing the Eighth amendment of the constitution enshrining the equal right to life of mother and baby would not immediately introduce abortion, it would pave the way for the Government to do just that.

Well-organised campaigns have bombarded the airwaves and doorsteps and covered lampposts up and down the country with sharply-conflicting key messages.

Those in favour of a Yes vote include the leaders of the main political parties in Ireland - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar among them - some doctors, lawyers, women's rights groups and campaigning organisations like Amnesty International.

The Government has characterised it as a modernising and compassionate reform, bringing Ireland into step with its neighbours who all have more liberal regimes.

Although there have been several referendums concerning abortion, nobody aged under 52 has had the chance to vote on an Eighth amendment introduced in 1983, and backers hope a large number of young people will vote and turn the tide their way.

They argue that that abortion is happening anyway, three illegal terminations are carried out every day using pills obtained on the internet - and thousands of pregnant women travel to the UK.

Mr Varadkar and his supporters in Government have said it is better to regulate the procedure within the Irish health service rather than outsource it to Britain, exposing women to the dangers and inconvenience of travel, or taking a pill of uncertain origin themselves without the benefit of a doctor's advice.

Together For Yes, the umbrella group leading the campaign for an affirmative vote, has used the slogan "trust women" to argue that they should be allowed to make important decisions about their own lives and families.

Those opposed to change include the clergy, a sizeable proportion of politicians and civil society organisations.

The Catholic Church believes the life of the unborn is sacrosanct, that it would be immoral to allow its termination through abortion, but advocates greater support for those in crisis.

It has urged people to remember the rights of the unborn, who cannot speak for themselves; many others sharing the same perspective have characterised that imbalance in emotive terms - warning that babies will die.

Save the Eighth, an umbrella group spearheading the campaign for No, has argued that repealing the Eighth would enable the Government to bring in the procedure on demand right up to birth.

Proposals for draft laws should the amendment be repealed do not include such a provision.

Under the current blueprint, the procedure would only be freely available up to 12 weeks gestation.

Save the Eighth has characterised legislation envisaged by the Government as "very extreme" and "even more extreme than Britain", where abortion is freely available.

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