Special Briefing: Ireland Divided Over Abortion Referendum

Special Briefing: Ireland Divided Over Abortion Referendum

A Pro Choice demonstrator attends a small counter demonstration against the Stand up for Life in Merrion Square, Dublin, as they campaign for the retention of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution which is to be decided in a referendum on May 25th.

SourceNiall Carson/PA Images via Getty

Why you should care

Because Friday’s referendum in Ireland could be a major moment in the traditionally conservative Roman Catholic country.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? On Friday, voters in the Republic of Ireland will decide the future of the country’s abortion laws in a referendum. They will be asked if they want to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, which gives a woman and her unborn fetus an equal right to life, effectively banning abortion in the country except when a pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother. The constitutional ban, introduced in 1983, applies even when the fetus isn’t expected to survive.

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A nun holds a placard during a LoveBoth Stand Up For Life rally on May 12, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland.

Source Charles McQuillan/Getty

Why does it matter? Friday’s referendum is the most significant plebiscite in decades in the traditionally Roman Catholic and socially conservative country. A “No” vote means there will be no repeal of the ban and the procedure will remain illegal. If the ban is repealed by a “Yes” vote, the Irish government says it will introduce legislation legalizing all abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

One woman’s story changed everything. The 2012 death of Indian-born dentist Savita Halappanavar — due to complications resulting from a days-long miscarriage, a pregnancy Irish doctors refused to end — sparked an intense debate over the country’s virtual ban on abortion. After Ireland’s long history of either burying or dodging the issue, a 2016 Citizens’ Assembly aimed at crowdsourcing policy recommendations helped launch the referendum process.

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Demonstrators hold placards and candles in memory of Savita Halappanavar in support of legislative change on abortion during a march to the Dail (Irish Parliament) in Dublin on November 17, 2012. Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, repeatedly asked the hospital to terminate her pregnancy because she had severe back pain and was miscarrying, her family said.

Source PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty

Status quo. Every year, more than 3,000 Irish women travel to the United Kingdom to get an abortion, and the cost of that can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on how far along the pregnancy is. An estimated 170,000 women have traveled to the U.K. for the operation since the ban was introduced. If a woman or doctor is caught performing an illegal abortion in Ireland, they could face 14 years in prison.

A divisive issue. The two main Irish political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, haven’t taken official positions, although taoiseach (prime minister) and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar supports repeal. Left-wing parties Sinn Fein and Labour support repeal as party policy. Meanwhile, polls show a divided country, with just under half of the Irish public — around 47 percent — supporting abortion for women who are up to 12 weeks pregnant, 37 percent opposing it and 11 percent remaining undecided. Fifty-four percent of those between ages 18 and 34 support legalization, and Irish women and men support legalization at about the same rate. One in 10 polled think men should not be allowed to vote in the referendum.

Point of contention. A major focus of Ireland’s thorny debate has fallen on Down syndrome, with anti-abortion campaigners — pointing at Iceland, where nearly all fetuses determined to have the condition are aborted — claiming a repeal of the abortion ban would result in the virtual eradication of humans with the condition. Others, including the Irish prime minister, have criticized anti-abortion advocates for injecting the vulnerable group into the political debate.

WHAT TO READ

The Catholic Church Is Absent in Ireland’s Abortion Referendum, by Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator

“The secular character of the anti-repeal campaign is evident across the board.”

Why Men’s Voices Are Vital in Ireland’s Abortion Referendum, by Colin Gannon at Dazed

“… about 70 percent of Irish women who receive abortion care in the U.K. are married or with a partner. That is, conservatively speaking, thousands of fathers and partners that the Eighth Amendment has, too, bound to secrecy and shame.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Rural v. Urban: Ireland’s Abortion Divide?

“There is higher support for abortion in Dublin, but outside of Dublin, there isn’t.”

Watch on BBC News on YouTube:

Ireland Abortion Laws: Should They Be Changed? Two Women With Experience of Law Debate Its Repeal

Watch on Channel 4 News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Will it be ‘Dublin Analytica’? Both Facebook and Google moved to restrict ads relating to the abortion referendum in the run-up, after concerns of foreign influence on political campaigns and evidence that some social media ads in Ireland have been traced to U.S. anti-abortion organizations. How the companies respond to the situation in Ireland could give an early indication as to how the two platforms will address foreign influence when it comes to the U.S. midterm elections in November.

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