Polls Indicate Irish Voters Want To Legalize Abortion

Mar 22, 2018
Originally published on March 22, 2018 7:03 am
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Less than three years after they voted to legalize gay marriage, the people of Ireland are voting again, this time on abortion. It's currently banned, except to save the mother's life. But polls show most Irish voters want to change that. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Weekday masses are still well attended in Roscommon, about 90 miles west of Dublin. It's mostly a farming area where unemployment is high. It's also the only county in Ireland that voted against gay marriage. And many locals say they are against abortion, too.

MARY MCBRIEN: Thousands and thousands of children have been aborted. So it's a very sad situation, and we don't want it for our country.

FRAYER: Mary McBrien (ph) raised six children, two of them she adopted. She says they might not have been born if abortion had been legal. Coming out of church, she and a neighbor, Tom Flanagan (ph), both in their 70s, discussed their country's abortion ban and the referendum this May on whether to repeal it.

TOM FLANAGAN: If it's repealed, that's the end of my Ireland. That's the death.

MCBRIEN: They keep chipping away after that. You know, probably the next thing is the older people. We'll probably have euthanasia. And it goes on and on, you know.

FRAYER: Roscommon is a conservative corner in a fast-changing Ireland. Divorce was legalized in 1996, same-sex marriage in 2015. And now, polls show a majority in favor of legalizing abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They're coming back into the chamber shortly. Staff are there.

FRAYER: A bell summons lawmakers to vote at Ireland's 18th century Parliament building in Dublin. Eugene Murphy represents Roscommon here. He says his rural Catholic constituents bristle at the idea of being overlooked politically.

EUGENE MURPHY: Metropolitan areas want to push their views on everything down on us. But we - no matter what they call us, we are intelligent. And we are compassionate.

FRAYER: Murphy says he feels bad that thousands of Irish women have to travel abroad for abortions each year, but he believes life starts at conception. Calls from his constituents are 4 to 1 against abortion, he says.

Attitudes are very different just a few blocks away at Trinity College Dublin. Students wear T-shirts that say repeal, repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which outlaws abortion. The university went on strike in January to campaign for repeal.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: They say no choice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We say pro-choice.

FRAYER: There are rallies and marches almost every week. Young people in Ireland's cities are likely to tip the vote. Many of them identify as Catholic but no longer adhere to church teachings, even if their roots are in places like Roscommon.

ROISIN DOYLE BAKARE: I don't know anyone's grandparents who would be pro-choice, including my own. Like, it just wouldn't happen, you know what I mean? Same with the gay marriage thing, I think.

FRAYER: Philosophy students Roisin Doyle Bakare and Aoife Donnellan say they don't take it lightly but will vote this spring to legalize abortion.

AOIFE DONNELLAN: I think also that some people think that young people are just jumping onto a trend, but it's a really difficult thing to come to terms with and...

BAKARE: This is our actual human rights. This is our health care. This is so important.

FRAYER: They see themselves as part of a generation that's changing the future of Ireland. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Dublin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENEMIES' "FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.