Ireland goes to the polls on May 25th to vote in a referendum on one of the most historically volatile issues for its electorate: abortion. The country’s abortion laws are considered among the most strict in the world and the most severe in Europe.
A near total ban on abortion was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. Article 40.3.3, more commonly known as the Eighth Amendment, guarantees an equal right to life for the unborn and mothers. It prohibits abortion in almost all cases stating: “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.”
Irish law only allows for termination when a mother’s life is in danger and the punishment for accessing an illegal abortion is up to 14 years in prison. It is estimated that about 3,000 Irish women go to the neighbouring UK for an abortion each year and that about 1,500 women use abortion pills.
The referendum proposes that the Eighth Amendment be scrapped, after which the government would legislate to allow terminations up to 12 weeks. Abortions would be permitted up to 24 weeks where there is a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, and at any time if a fatal foetal abnormality is found.
A spirited campaign by both sides of the debate has grabbed attention inside and outside the country. Posters dot cities and towns, hanging from almost every lamppost. This is partly because TV and radio spots are banned and, as a result, much campaigning has also moved into the digital space, where several organisations have made use of targeted advertisements.
In a case that many around the world are watching, Facebook last week blocked foreign funding of ads related to the referendum and launched a “view ads” tool, which allows people to see which ads are being run by what groups. Google went further, banning all referendum ads, even those funded in Ireland.
On Thursday we’ll take a look at the referendum campaign, both on the streets and online, and examine an issue that sharply divides the Irish nation. Join us at 1930GMT.
Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog
Louise Kenny @louiseckenny
Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Liverpool
Andrew O’Regan @medicsfor8th
Spokesperson, Medical Alliance for the 8th
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