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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 22:59 GMT
Irish await abortion vote result
Nun passes polling-station in Dublin
Ireland's church-state relations arise again
Voting has ended in the Irish Republic's referendum on tightening already strict legislation against abortion.

Results are not due until Thursday afternoon.

High winds and rain kept voters away earlier in the day, especially in the west of the country, but an improvement late on sparked a rush to the polling stations.


Anybody who wants an abortion will just keep on going to England

Marian Loftus
Dublin mother-of-two
Nonetheless, turnout is expected to be well down on previous abortion referendums, unhelped by what many say is the confusing choice on offer.

People were asked not to make a simple decision for or against abortion, but to approve a change in the constitution which would re-define the legal rights of the unborn child and the mother.

A Yes vote would allow doctors to intervene to save the life of a pregnant woman but an abortion would no longer be allowed if she was threatening to commit suicide over an unwanted pregnancy.

Dublin mother-of-two, Marian Loftus, was representative of many, arguing that the referendum was irrelevant as anyone set on an abortion could travel to Britain.

"Sure, it doesn't matter how we vote," she said.

"The result will be the same. Anybody who wants an abortion will just keep on going to England."

Confusion

Pensioner Cathleen Hand admitted she was slightly baffled.

"The issues are very confusing, lets face it, but I'm a Roman Catholic and Cardinal (Desmond) Connell told us to vote 'yes' and as a practising Catholic I am voting with him," she said.

The church has strongly backed the referendum which is aimed at addressing a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that a termination may be performed where the mother is threatening suicide.


It will effectively criminalise a woman who is desperate enough to abort herself - instead of offering compassion, the government wants to throw her in prison

Sinead Kennedy
Alliance for a No Vote
Some feared this could lead to a more liberal interpretation of the law, and eventually to abortion on demand.

But for the most part, opposition politicians urged voters to reject the proposed amendment to the constitution.

"This will reduce the right to life of women by excluding those who are at risk of suicide," said the Labour Party's health spokeswoman, Liz McManus.

The amendment would create a new criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.

It would define abortion as the intentional destruction of human life after the embryo becomes implanted in the womb.

Sinead Kennedy, of the Alliance for a No Vote, said the new legislation would "diminish the position of all women in Ireland".

"It will effectively criminalise a woman who is desperate enough to abort herself," she said.


We must find better ways of solving real human dilemmas, and better ways of dealing with this problem than actually killing the unborn

Dr Berry Kiely
Pro-Life Campaign
"Instead of offering compassion, the government wants to throw her in prison."

But the new legislation falls short of the protection for the unborn child demanded by those who believe life begins at the moment of conception.

Some said they might vote against the amendment.

That would put them in a strange alliance with members of the pro-choice lobby voting No because they want restrictions on abortion relaxed, not made more stringent.

Dr Berry Kiely, a paediatrician who advises the Pro-Life Campaign on medical issues, argued that a Yes vote was essential to clearly establish that abortion was illegal in Ireland.

"We must find better ways of solving real human dilemmas, and better ways of dealing with this problem than actually killing the unborn," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Denis Murray reports from Dublin
"Both sides have their certainties - both political and emotional"
Alan O'Keeffe of Dublin's Evening Herald newspaper
"Society is divided on this"

Talking PointFORUM
Abortion
You asked about the Irish referendum
See also:

05 Mar 02 | Europe
Anna's story: No regrets
05 Mar 02 | Europe
Q&A: Irish abortion referendum
05 Mar 02 | Europe
New confusion in an old debate
15 Jun 01 | Europe
No abortions on 'abortion ship'
05 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ireland
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