We are a week away until the Republic of Ireland’s referendum on abortion is held, with campaigners on both sides of the argument continuing to make their voices heard.
The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983, currently gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn child.
Abortion is only available when a mother’s life is at risk and it is illegal even if there is a fatal foetal abnormality, or in the case of rape or incest.
Pro-life campaigner Katie Ascough tells Sky News why she is pushing for a No vote on 25 May.
We all have life experiences that reflect our views. Mine was my 13-week old brother, miscarried at home. I remember holding him in the palm of my hand and looking into his small face.
At just 13 weeks, he had arms and legs, fingers and toes, eyes, ears, nose and a mouth. He had creases on his knuckles and tiny fingernails.
Looking into his face, I felt a new sense of understanding. I understood that, he and others like him, are human beings whose right to life should be acknowledged, who are only separated from you and me by time.
In just one week, Ireland will be making a culturally defining and historic decision. On 25 May, we will be deciding whether to remove the right to life for unborn children from our constitution. With the world’s gaze intensely upon us, Ireland has never been so crucial to the abortion debate.
Having witnessed events unfold in Ireland over the past few months, we have seen a colossal shift in the government’s conversation. At first, it was all about the hard cases, but that has rapidly spring boarded into a proposal for abortion on demand.
Since then, much of the debate has looked to Britain as an example of an abortion regime that has gone far beyond its initial brief of “limited availability” and how it has impacted cultural attitudes.
With the Irish government’s proposals looking to introduce a more wide-ranging version of Britain’s laws, the legitimate concern is that Ireland’s low abortion rate would soon match Britain’s rate, where for every four babies born, one has their life ended by abortion.
The Irish government’s proposal is to introduce unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks. We know at 12 weeks a child can be seen yawning, kicking, and sucking their thumb in the womb.
At 12 weeks, a child has fingers and toes, a visible face, and is growing hair and fingernails.
From conversations on the street and at doorsteps, we have seen that most Irish people, when presented with this reality, do not want abortion on demand.
Our government is also proposing to introduce abortion up until six months, on unspecified mental health grounds.
A strikingly similar law in England and Wales, the mental health section of the 1967 Abortion Act’s ground C, was, in 2016, responsible for 97% of the 181,000 abortions in that year.
Ground C was meant to permit abortions for women, who had not exceeded 24 weeks, and whose physical or mental health was at risk.
However, given the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of abortions performed under this undefined and vague mental health ground, it has clearly become the gateway for abortion on demand up until six months of pregnancy.
There is no reason to suggest a different outcome for Ireland if the Eight Amendment were repealed and the government’s intended proposal passed.
At this stage, neither side of the campaign has room for complacency. While the polls are still in favour of a Yes vote, they have been consistently shifting in favour of a No.
One pitfall of the Yes campaign is that it has relied on soundbites which, when challenged, are not convincing to an undecided voter.
The narrative of “healthcare”, as opposed to “choice”, has been particularly pushed. While everyone can get on board with better healthcare, it seems disingenuous to suggest that repealing the Eighth Amendment offers the solution.
The 2016 figures show only 246 abortions, of the 181,000 in England and Wales, were carried out under grounds A and B – in order to save the life of the mother and/or prevent grave permanent injury.
While these cases have been at the forefront of the Yes campaign, it is important to remember that many of these are covered in Irish law, by the 2013 Act and that in Britain the vast majority of abortions take place for reasons of convenience rather than medical necessity.
We should be proud that, according to the World Health Organisation, Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant, safer even than Britain.
We should also be proud that Ireland has as a very low rate of abortion. Abortion has not been normalised and become part of our culture.
If our Eighth Amendment were to be removed, we could expect the number of abortions to substantially increase, just as they have in almost every other country where abortion is introduced.
On 25 May, you decide Ireland’s future. You decide the type of Ireland you want your children and grandchildren to grow up in.
I understand that some people reading this agree with abortion in certain, restrictive, and rare cases, but please know that is simply not what the Irish government is proposing.
Our government is currently proposing abortion on demand. We could have been having a different conversation about a more limited abortion proposal, but that is not what our government has chosen to present us with.
My challenge to anyone picking up a pen and voting on 25 May is this: If you are thinking about voting Yes, or know someone who is thinking about voting Yes, look at an ultrasound of a baby at 12 weeks and ask yourself the real and determining question for 25 May, “Do I really believe that it should be OK, in the society I live in, to end the life of this child, for any reason?”
If there is any doubt in your mind that this is wrong, please vote No.
:: This is part one of a two-part series looking at the arguments of both side’s in the abortion referendum. Click here to read Helen Linehan’s piece on why she is campaigning to make abortion legal.