The Gaelers in 2002 – Abortion

All sides in the abortion referendum campaign today made final pleas to their supporters ahead of Wednesday’s poll.

Calling for a Yes vote, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that the Government’s proposal was based on the best available medical and legal advice and would protect women and children in pregnancy. He told RTÉ that a No victory would not be a setback for him because he considered this to be an ethical, moral and medical issue not a political one.

The Fine Gael leader this afternoon made a last call to people to come out and vote No on Wednesday to what he called “the Government’s flawed and unsafe referendum proposal”.

At a news conference, Michael Noonan said that if the amendment was rejected, Fine Gael – in Government – would bring forward legislation in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in the X case.

Mr Noonan told RTÉ News that he thought the referendum would be lost because more women than men would vote and more women than men were against the Government’s proposal.

A number of obstetricians and gynaecologists are to publish a letter in the national newspapers tomorrow, also calling for a No vote. They are members of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which has already urged the public to vote Yes.

Earlier, the Pro-Life Campaign also held its final news conference to outline its position. The campaign said that it was confident the amendment fully protected the lives of pregnant women and their unborn children, despite what it described as “scaremongering” to the contrary.

This morning the former Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, called for a Yes vote in the referendum. At a news conference hosted by Lawyers for a Yes Vote, the former Taoiseach said: “I do not agree with those who say that we should introduce positive legislation to facilitate the abortion of unborn children in Irish hospitals if the mother is believed by doctors to be suicidal because she is pregnant.”

Mr Bruton said that this legislation was put forward by some who favour a No vote in the referendum. Mr Bruton said that he had decided to attend the news conference today because he had been invited by the lawyers’ group.

He added that he had made up his mind to make this one public intervention over the weekend. Mr Bruton also criticised the Taoiseach for not accepting the challenge from Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan for a head-to-head debate on the issue.

Mr Bruton rejected suggestions that his intervention was prompted by Fine Gael’s standing in the opinion polls. He added that his position on the abortion issue was well known and that he had made it clear during many contributions at meetings of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

However, Fine Gael justice spokesman Alan Shatter said that should a majority vote Yes on Wednesday, child abuse would for the first time be given constitutional protection. He said that in this Ireland would not only be unique in Europe but in the world and those genuinely concerned about the plight of sexually abused children must vote No.

Deputy Shatter said that many of those in positions of religious authority who called for a Yes vote over the weekend are repeating a call made by their predecessors in 1983. He said that most of them have over the past 20 years ignored the issue of child physical and sexual abuse.

In a further development, the group the Alliance for a No Vote said that it was very concerned about the lack of information being disseminated on issues relating to the referendum. The group said that there had been a deliberate campaign on the part of the Government to keep information from the people.

Calling for a No vote, Chairperson of the group, Cathleen O’Neill, said that this referendum, if passed, would endanger the lives of women and girls and criminalise women who tried to perform an abortion on themselves.

Meanwhile, polling in the referendum has taken place on islands off the West Coast today. Just over 1,400 voters on the three Aran Islands and Inishboffin in County Galway and on Inishturk in County Mayo were entitled to vote. Islanders off the Donegal and Cork coasts have already gone to the polls.

Groups hold final conferences before referendum