In Dublin city it’s possible to tell which way a lot of people are voting in Friday’s abortion referendum by simply looking at their chests.
“Tà,” the Irish word for “yes”, appears on a multicoloured background on some badges; “no,” in red or pink, on others.
The referendum is divisive and deeply emotive for many of the more than three million registered voters, who live in a country where abortions are not allowed, even in cases of rape or incest. As many as twelve women travel to the UK every day to get a termination and up to three more each day buy abortion pills online, risking a prison sentence of 14 years.
Last week, a poll published by the Irish Times found that 17% of Irish voters were undecided, with a further 2% declining to say which way they would vote. While the “yes” side is thought to be winning in the polls, this unknown number means the result could swing either way.
Yet, those undecided voters are proving difficult to find.
“It is such an emotive issue and people are so afraid to talk about it… I think if they are undecided voters they’re almost afraid to say it because everyone’s trying to target them at the moment,” said pro-choice campaigner, 21-year-old Sally Anne McCarthy, an astrophysics student who was on her third day of campaigning outside Trinity College, Dublin.
“I think the undecideds are the ones that just keep their heads down and don’t say anything,” another “yes” campaigner said in Dublin city centre.
Helena, a Netherlands-born “no” campaigner on Grafton Street, said, “You can’t really spot them, you just get lucky.”
Many of those still making up their minds were reluctant to speak or asked HuffPost to only give their first names.
Niamh, a 39-year-old teacher, said she’s leaning towards the pro-choice side but still not definite. “I feel women will abort if the baby is Down’s Syndrome,” she said. “You can test for that at 10-13 weeks.”
Her sister, psychiatric nurse Sinead, 32, is currently pregnant herself and leaning towards a no. “I worry the abortion rate will go up,” she said
And Anne, a 52-year-old administrative assistant from Wicklow, said she had been finding it difficult to figure out the true facts of the matter. “Both sides are telling you different things. Look at the ‘no’ voters, they’re saying it’ll be abortion up to six months. The media are all very liberal. It’s hard to know who to trust.”
At this stage, both sides of the campaign have identified men as more likely to still be unsure about their vote.
“Demographically it’s middle-aged men, because men don’t have to think about it,” said Finn McLysaghr, a pro-choice campaigner on Grafton Street.
“I think a lot of women are certain how they feel because you can’t help but feel the referendum is taking place in your own uterus,” McCarthy said. “I think men are a step removed from it.”
Nigel, 46, said he wants abortion legalised for the “hard cases” like rape or fatal foetal abnormality, where the baby won’t live beyond the womb. “People that I’ve spoken to who are voting ‘no’ are hoping the government will come back with legislation for rape cases and fatal foetal abnormality,” the Dublin-based teacher said. ”‘Yes’ for the hard cases. ‘No’ for abortion up to 12 weeks for any reason. Kids need decent sex education and free contraception, abortion should not be the solution.”
In the run-up to the referendum, there’s been a lot of focus on Irish people travelling home from abroad to cast their ballots, given Ireland has no postal vote for those abroad. However, HuffPost spoke to several of the diaspora who chose not to come because of their confusion over how they feel about the referendum. Chris Quaid, a Wexford-born Master’s student at the Royal College of Music, said coming from a Catholic, conservative family means his natural instinct would have been to vote no.
“However, I really do consider myself open-minded and believe that there is place for regulated abortion in Ireland. Numerous legal cases have shown the need for this and I think the option to choose is important.”
Like many others, he expressed confusion over the government’s proposed legislation, which would regulate abortion if the referendum passes.
“One of the reasons why I can’t bring myself to vote ‘yes’ is that I don’t know exactly what we are voting for,” Quaid said. “We are voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment obviously but this just allows the government to enact legislation to allow abortion. We have no specifics and no wording. In fact they could enact legislation that could be still challenged as unconstitutional even without the Eighth Amendment.”
This view was echoed by Siobhan, who works in marketing and decided not to make the expensive journey back from the US to vote. “Maybe it’s our Catholic upbringings, but I think there’s a lot of uneasiness about this idea of abortion on demand,” she said. “Having said that, I guess it’s clear the current situation isn’t working either.”