Ireland will remain “frozen in time” if people do not vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.
With more than 3m people eligible to go to the ballot box today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also appealed to citizens to move away from a “legacy of shame that exists in our society” where women are forced to travel abroad for an abortion or take pills bought online without medical supervision.
In a significant concession, a number of Fianna Fáil politicians who previously came out strongly in favour of retaining the Eighth Amendment yesterday softened their stance, saying they would back legislation to allow for abortions in so-called hard cases.
However, Mary Butler, Éamon Ó Cuív, and Declan Breathnach said they would not support any legislation that allows unrestricted terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and would be putting down amendments to the proposal.
Voters will have until 10pm tonight to cast a ballot on whether or not the Eighth Amendment should be repealed.
Ms Butler said: “If the yes vote is successful and legislation comes forward, I personally won’t halt legislation in relation to rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormalities.
“However, I will scrutinise the bill word for word, line by line and I will never be in agreement of abortion on demand because I fundamentally believe that every child has a right to life.”
Mr Ó Cuív said he would support the passage of a “much more restrictive regime” through the Dáil if the referendum passes.
Given their comments, it now looks likely that legislation would be held up in the Dáil, despite indications from Mr Varadkar that he is confident it could be passed before Christmas.
Making a final attempt to persuade undecided voters to vote yes, Mr Varadkar said that if the referendum does not pass, it would send out the “wrong message” about our society.
“There has been in Ireland a legacy of shame in many ways, the fact that 170,000 women have had to travel sometimes in secret to another jurisdiction to end their pregnancies.
“I hope that a yes vote will help to lift that stigma, help to take away that legacy of shame that exists in our society.”
Mr Coveney told the Dáil that if the people vote no today, they “are essentially saying that we can change nothing, that Ireland is frozen in time on this issue”.
The Tánaiste, who changed his opinion on the issue after he spoke to a Cork woman who gave her personal story, said: “We have an opportunity to address the secrecy, the stigma and, in many ways, the hypocrisy of the way Ireland has dealt with the issue of abortion for most of my lifetime.”