Ireland prepares for vote on whether to repeal abortion ban

World Today

Activists make their final appeals to voters, as Ireland prepares for a referendum on abortion.

The Eighth amendment of Ireland’s constitution effectively bans abortion. On Friday, voters will decide whether to repeal it — or not.

CGTN’s Richard Bestic is in Dublin, to take the public pulse.

Across the Irish Republic, banners on each side of the argument have been battling it out, over a referendum regarded by some as one more step in a fast liberalizing Ireland, as the country steps out from under the control of the Roman Catholic Church.

Only three years ago, voters approved a referendum to legalize gay marriage. Abortion though, has proved much more divisive.

“Yes” and “No” campaign tactics have proved emotive and often controversial.

Speaking for the pro-life campaign, Sandra Caulfield talks about her baby who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder in the womb.

With husband Jonathan at her side, she said abortion was unthinkable; she treasured the nine days of her baby Hope Rose’s life.

“Surrounded by love and the peace when Hope Rose left this world,” Caulfield recalled. “In that room was myself, Jonathan, Chloe, Eva and Hope Rose. The peace and love that was in that room, is something I think  is very important for people to hear about.”

Those on the other side tell an equally heartbreaking tale of a pregnant woman who was forced to travel to the U.K. for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal fetal condition.

“This baby – I can see the heartbeat, but it has no brain and I thought, they have to do something because this is severe,” said abortion rights supporter Callahan Upton. “You can’t live without your brain.”

The “Yes” and “No” sides admit Ireland’s abortion referendum has been a bruising encounter.

“The ‘Yes’ campaigners have torn down half of the ‘No’ campaigners posters,” said Niamh Ui Bhrain of the Save the 8th Campaign. “How does that help a fair or democratic debate? I mean I’m sure there are plenty of isolated incidents you might be able to point me to, but I don’t see that kind of systematic interference (on the other side.)”

Door-to-door, the campaign has been ramping up as opinion polls narrow. On one of the great moral issues of the day, however, Ireland’s once hugely powerful Roman Catholic Church is noticeable by its absence.

Just one priest was prepared to talk on camera. Father Joe Macdonald concedes the voice of the scandal-plagued Church could prove unhelpful to its allies.

“We have had a pretty serious period of scandal in the Irish Church,” said Father MacDonald. “I think there’s a long way to go before that will be healed.”

This referendum’s been bitterly divisive, and rather than any joy at the result this weekend, there’ll be perhaps only a greater knowledge of Ireland’s future direction.