Ireland’s abortion referendum has been cast as an identity battle between the older, Catholic generation and a more liberal youth; old Ireland versus new Ireland in a battle for its principles. But some young people are bucking that trend.
HuffPost UK talked to people campaigning to keep the current ban on abortion. Many cited their Catholic upbringing and the rights of the unborn child, but others claimed that a backlash against the #metoo movement was motivating some young men to vote no. One teenager, in south Dublin, said: “A ton of my friends would fall into that category.
“They believe that the Me Too movement does more harm than good,” the student, who asked not to be named, said.
“They associate feminists with people who believe women are better than men, and therefore associate this all with the referendum somehow.”
Tamia Furlong, 14, agreed, and said many of her older friends who are eligible to vote are doing the same. “I don’t know why. I don’t think they should have the vote,” she said.
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The vote on Friday comes after weeks of tense debate over whether the Republic should repeal the 8th amendment that bans abortion. If the Yes vote wins, the government will bring in legislation allowing women in Ireland to legally abort within 12 weeks of pregnancy. If, after 12 weeks, a woman’s life is threatened or there could be serious harm to her health, two doctors will consider whether to allow the procedure.
Diarmuid Gallagher, a 21-year-old student from Waterford, said he only decided to vote no three weeks ago. Gallagher said he researched the vote by looking on government and healthcare sites and reading the material the campaigns were distributing.
He said he thought allowing abortion on mental health grounds could be abused by women wanting abortions. “There’s no real protection for the health of babies, which I think is one of the most important things.”
Other young people said they were voting no on the grounds of religion and arguments about morality. Campaigning on O’Connell Street in Dublin, Lucy Kelly, 21, originally from Belfast, was one of those whose whole family is heavily involved in the No campaign. “My whole family is pro-life,” she said. “This is the greatest human rights battle of our generation.”
She said she has been campaigning for the last four years with anti-abortion groups. “There’s great campaigning north and south. It’s very much united in Ireland.” Kelly believes abortion has “detrimental effects on women”.
“Why not provide women with crisis pregnancy support here in Ireland?”
Riaghan O’Callaghan, a 24-year-old who’s been canvassing around the countryside for more than two years, had a similar message.
“We are taking away the right to life and instead giving the right to kill. I think that is discrimination and I think it should be in the constitution.” Her family are also anti-abortion, and her sister campaigns too.
They recently travelled with an organisation called the Life Institute and the Pro-Life campaign on a “roadshow” around the country campaigning. “Here in the city I know there’s a bit of a fad (to vote yes),” O’Callaghan said.
What is the Irish abortion referendum about?
Ireland’s abortion referendum will decide whether the country’s strict abortion laws should be relaxed.
Voters will be given the chance to vote yes or no on whether the Eighth Amendment to the country’s constitution should be repealed, opening the doors for the government to pass legislation making abortion legal.
The Eighth Amendment currently says the unborn child and the mother have an equal right to life.
Under the country’s new laws if the amendment is repealed, women in Ireland could legally obtain an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in cases where the woman’s life or health was at risk.
Terminations would also be allowed if the unborn baby had a fatal abnormality.
Handing out leaflets close to Dublin’s Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre was Matthew O’Shea. “I’m voting ‘no’ because I think a foetus in the womb is a child so you’re killing a child,” he said, before admitting he was 14 so couldn’t actually vote.
O’Shea said he is from a large religious family and his parents took him to anti-abortion rallies from a young age. He’s also homeschooled, he explained, so he doesn’t have to worry about missing lessons to campaign.
He also said the lack of prosecutions of Irishwomen who’ve undergone abortions over the last few decades means that, even though procuring an abortion can currently be punished with up to 14 years in prison, it’s a “scare-mongering tactic” being used by the pro-choice side.
“Obviously there are going to be extreme cases on both sides but I think a ‘yes’ is too extreme, so for that reason I decided to join the ‘no’ side.”