DUBLIN — Irelands abortion rights campaigners have spent months arguing that women should have a choice — but its men who could hold the key to winning this months referendum.
Ahead of the May 25 referendum, surveys show a majority of young women are ready to vote to repeal the countrys abortion ban. But the polls are narrowing as growing ranks of the Irish say they might not vote.
Many socially liberal men say it isnt their place to decide whether a mother and her unborn child should have equal right to life, as enshrined in the eighth amendment to Irelands constitution.
Thats because the repeal sides message is backfiring, say anti-abortion campaigners.
“They have essentially been telling male voters and older voters consistently … that the only people to whom this referendum is relevant are women of child-bearing age,” said John McGuirk, a spokesman for the anti-abortion campaign Save the 8th. “And the problem is that lot of those voters have taken them to heart and said, Okay, you dont want us involved.”
Rugby players and sports broadcasters were last month drafted in to get men talking about sensitive questions of womens health and morality.
The latest Irish Times-Ipsos MRBI poll, out May 17, shows 44 percent support for repealing the amendment versus 32 percent to keep the ban, with support for the anti-abortion campaign having grown in recent weeks. Crucially, almost a quarter of the electorate say they remain undecided or likely wont vote.
As Yes campaigners growincreasingly nervous after years of pushing for change, rugby players and sports broadcasters were last month drafted in to get men talking about sensitive questions of womens health and morality.
“The 8th Amendment is getting in the way of a more compassionate Ireland, where women have the choice to get the care they need, and make the decisions they need to make,” former rugby star Gordon DArcy tweeted at the launch of the #Men4Yes campaign. Boxer Andy Lee and commentators Richie Sadlier, Kevin McGahern and Con Murphy joined DArcy in a goofball photoshoot to back repealing the eighth.
But pro-life groups beat them to the punch with a campaign featuring high-profile figures from the beloved Gaelic Athletic Association for traditional Irish sports (hurling and Gaelic football).
“Its not really up to men to vote, but its something that affected me” — Alex Kane, 24
In an interview with the Irish Times, former Gaelic football manager Mickey Harte said he was supporting the “GAA Athletes for a No Vote” campaign because “to me its a straight vote between a culture of death and a culture of life.”
Noel Healy, 82, is one of the voters the #Men4Yes campaign hopes to convince to head to the ballot box.
He said he supports abortion rights, but thinks only women should vote in the referendum. “Men cant get abortions,” Healy said.
Alex Kane, 24, has no such ambivalence. “Its not really up to men to vote, but its something that affected me,” Kane said, noting that he became a father at 16. He said hell be voting to repeal.
But faced with competing campaigns, men may be getting mixed signals. “My parents are dragging me towards no, my sisters are dragging me towards yes,” said Matthew Nolan, 26, noting that his mother is a nurse of deep Catholic faith. Interviewed on a Dublin street corner, he said hes leaning toward yes, but added, “To be honest, I dont think Ill vote because I dont know which way to go for.”
Both sides are keeping a close eye on the polls and both will be hoping they have the most success in turning out the male vote on Friday.
“Were pretty confident that pro-life men will not sit the referendum out,” said Save the 8ths McGuirk.