Abortion referendum: '˜No' campaigners in appeal to voters over '˜step too far'

Anti-abortion campaigners have made a last ditch effort to sway voters ahead of Friday's referendum on legalising terminations in the Irish Republic.

Anti-abortion campaigners have made a last-ditch effort to sway voters ahead of tomorrow’s referendum on legalising terminations in the Irish Republic.

Dawn McAvoy of the Both Lives Matter group has urged those casting their vote – in the poll to decide if the constitution’s Eighth Amendment should be repealed – to take time to think about the magnitude of what is being proposed.

“Whatever happens on either side of that border will impact on the whole island,” she said.

A poster in Dublin calling for a Yes vote on repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution

Ms McAvoy said a new social media hashtag #toofarforme has been launched, aimed at those who have concerns that the proposed new arrangements are a step too far and will begin a slide towards a free-for-all on terminations.

“Unlimited abortion up to 12 weeks, very few restrictions up to 24 weeks similar to the 1967 Act [in Great Britain], and beyond that based on women’s health. It is not specified as to what that might look like, so for many people there is a grave concern that effectively it is abortion on request beyond 12 weeks,” she said.

“If the vote is to repeal the amendment, whatever legislation is put in place we expect that women in Northern Ireland will be provided for.

“We believe that a government in Dublin committed to unification would desire to offer abortions ... similarly to how Westminster has provided abortions to women from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has not been asked. At any stage in the process, we have not been given a voice.”

Doug Beattie MLA

Ms McAvoy claims the experience of countries such as France and Great Britain shows an inevitable slide towards abortion on demand, whatever the original aims of the legislation, once terminations are legalised.

“As soon as you legislate for increased access to abortion, where that has been done there has been an inevitable increase. In France, where the situation is similar to Great Britain, one in five pregnancies end in abortion,” she said.

“People who are concerned about the hard cases of abortion, will have looked at what happens in countries like Great Britain where 98% of abortions aren’t for the hard cases, so they are saying that we do think better care needs to be offered, and that what is being proposed [in the Irish referendum] is too extreme and too far for me.”

Ms McAvoy said those who study trends in pre-election polls as well as the eventual election results believe the referendum outcome is too close to call.

“We are hopeful but it is very tight. You have to wait until the day – you can’t predict anything,” she added.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie is a supporter of the referendum ‘Yes’ campaign, but believes all politicians should be free to vote on any abortion legislation in line with their conscience – not party policy.

“Abortion is happening whether people like it or not. The only difference is that it is being exported from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Because it is not within these shores or within our boundaries then we all turn our backs and say ‘it’s nothing to do with me.’

“So that same woman who wants to get an abortion in Donegal or Londonderry, she’s travelling to England to have that abortion or elsewhere. It’s still happening but we just turn our backs on it.”

Mr Beattie said “If you go to England for an abortion it is all now paid for. Your journey across is paid for, accommodation is paid for and the abortion is free as well. The problem is that it takes them away from their support network, from the people that they need to have close to them.

“It is an incredibly difficult thing that they are going through. So, if the Irish Republic votes to repeal the Eighth Amendment, then the reality is that women from Northern Ireland, who are in desperate need, extremely vulnerable and who want an abortion, would instead travel down to the Republic.

“And I cannot see the Irish Republic not offering women in Northern Ireland the chance to avail of an abortion. That is why the repeal the eighth decision is going to have a major impact here in Northern Ireland.

“My belief is that we should trust women to have autonomy over their own bodies. That in the case of rape or fatal foetal abnormalities, or whatever terminology you want to use, or in the case of sex crimes, then women should be given the right to abort that child is she wishes.

“In the case of the 1967 Act, where they can have abortion on demand up to 24 weeks, I am less clear on this and I am open to persuasion.”

• In the event of a ‘yes’ vote, legislation will be drafted to allow access to a termination within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If an abortion is sought, the woman will approach a medical practitioner, probably a GP, an obstetrician or a gynaecologist.

The practitioner will then have a legal obligation to discuss alternatives to termination, and a three-day waiting period will be compulsory. After 72 hours an abortion pill will be administered if the termination is still requested.