Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Campaigning Intense as May 25 Irish Referendum on Abortion Approaches

BBC (May 16, 2018): Abortion in Ireland - what is the law?

On May 25, voters in the Republic of Ireland will vote on constitutional reform which would allow the government to introduce legislation easing the country's ban on abortion. According to Kitty Holland, in the Guardian:

Two weeks from the vote, the outcome is far from clear. While several months, even weeks, ago a Yes vote seemed inevitable, polls are narrowing. A survey last weekend, in the Sunday Independent found 45% in favour of repeal, 34% against, 18% undecided and 4% not expressing an opinion.

Currently in Ireland, a woman is only allowed to terminate a pregnancy when her life is at risk. Attempts to change the law have been prevented by the eighth amendment to the Ireland's constitution, which was enacted in 1983.  Under the amendment, the state acknowledges "the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."  Although 1992 amendments specifically allowed women to travel to other countries to obtain abortions and recognized their right to information about services available outside of Ireland, the eighth amendment has prevented Ireland from easing its abortion restrictions.

Women in Ireland who obtain illegal abortions can face up to 14 years in prison. Because of the restrictions, in 2016, 3,265 women traveled from Ireland to the UK to obtain an abortion.

In 2017, a Citizens' Assembly was set up to advise the Irish government on constitutional change.  It voted to replace or amend the eighth amendment. This has led to the current referendum where the Irish people will vote on whether to repeal the eighth amendment, allowing Irish lawmakers to set the country's abortion laws.

The vote is expected to be close with both sides actively campaigning with everyone from obstetricians to fashion designers to weighing in.  A recent campaign ad depicting a man in uniform and the slogan "Men protect lives. Children expect to be protected. Vote No to abortion on demand" has prompted the Irish Army to tweet that it does not take a position on the referendum. According to Holland in the Guardian:

Though most political parties back repeal, the main government parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are allowing members a free vote. The biggest parties’ campaigning is low-key, and – uniquely in any recent referendum campaign – the government is not publishing campaign literature or putting up posters. The campaign, on both sides, is being driven by civil society.

The referendum is being closely watched around the world.  In Ireland the online space for referendum campaigning is not regulated, leading to concerns that foreign groups were trying to influence the referendum and that sites claiming to provide unbiased views could actually be traced to anti-abortion campaigns.  Although such activities are not illegal, in response concerns about the impact of social media on election integrity earlier this month, Facebook announced that it would block political advertising from groups based outside the country and Google has stopped selling ads on either side of the debate.





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