Posters in favor of yes and no for the Irish referendum on abortion, in a photo taken on May 12, 2018 in Dublin.
After approving homosexual marriage three years ago, the Irish vote this Friday in a referendum if they liberalize abortion, in a plebiscite that will measure the Catholic Church’s ascendancy over the country.
The voters will decide specifically if they repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which prohibits abortion in all cases, except in the case of danger to the life of the mother.
The polling stations opened at 07h00 local (06H00 GMT) and will close at 22H00 (21H00 GMT). The counting of the votes will be done on Saturday and it is expected to know the results that same night.
The latest polls give a slight advantage to supporters of the yes, but this has been reduced in some surveys and one in six people remains undecided.
Sample of interest, more than 118,000 citizens requested this year to register in the electoral census.
Irish abortions in England and Wales
Ireland was until recently a feud of the Catholic Church, for historical and also political reasons, related to its secular confrontation with Anglican England. The country gained independence from the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century.
However, the scandal of sexual abuse of children by clergy, among others, has weakened their position.
Abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and is only allowed if the life of the mother is in danger.
– Free abortion? –
Passengers pass in front of posters in favor of yes and no to abortion, on May 24, 2018 in Dublin
If the yes is imposed, the government of Leo Varadkar has already prepared a change in the laws that would allow free abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and, in some circumstances, during the first six months.
Prime Minister Varadkar, who advocates liberalizing abortion, appealed on Thursday to vote, calling the referendum a „one-time opportunity in a generation“ and warning that there will not be another referendum, whatever the outcome, in an interview on Newstalk radio.
Varadkar recalled that since the constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion was introduced, decided in a referendum in 1983, „170,000 women went abroad to abort.“
In 2013, it was decided that women whose lives were in danger due to pregnancy could interrupt it, following the scandal caused by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died when he was denied an abortion.
The idea of the new referendum gained momentum with the case of Amanda Mellet, who had to travel to the United Kingdom to abort after it was detected that the fetus was suffering a fatal anomaly and that she took her case to the UN.
Gavin Boyne, a 20-year philosophy student, explains that he owed his life to the abortion ban and that he was going to vote in favor of keeping the eighth amendment.
Her mother accidentally got pregnant and her parents decided to send her to England to have an abortion, but eventually they backed off.
A poster asking for a yes vote in Dublin, on May 13, 2018.
„My grandparents recognized that I was a unique human being, with a value, so they could not get me killed … If the eighth amendment had not existed in 1998, today I would not be here,“ he says.
In contrast, for Dubliner Ciara Grealy, 21, it makes no sense to „export women to other countries to do something they should be able to do here safely and legally.“
– Change of strategy –
„We have to put an end to this cruelty, we have had enough,“ Ailbhe Smyth, co-director of the platform Together for the Yes, which advocates liberalizing abortion, told AFP.
At the other extreme, Geraldine Martin, spokesperson for the Love the Two campaign, opposed the repeal, regretted that the government has not helped women with unwanted pregnancies.
A poster in favor of the no in Dublin, on May 13, 2018.
„At no time did the government hold these women’s hands to ask them: ‚How can I help you? How can I take your pressure so you do not feel so pushed to abort?'“
In the 12 remote islands of the Atlantic Ocean, they began voting on Thursday to ensure that ballot boxes arrive on time at the counting centers.
According to the 2016 census, 78% of the 3.7 million Irish people are Catholics, but attendance at Mass has fallen dramatically.
In the referendum three years ago on gay marriage, the Church adopted a much more visible and lost position, and in this has opted for a low profile, in a subject whose opinion is known to the whole world.