Pro-choice campaigners in London urge 'respectful debate' ahead of Irish abortion vote
Pro-choice campaigners have gathered in London to call for a change to Ireland's strict abortion laws, expressing the hope that the country will engage in "respectful debate" ahead of the 2018 referendum.
The event was one of the first rallies since the Irish Government set an indicative timescale of early summer next year for a referendum on the section of the state's constitution that ensures tight legal restrictions on terminations.
The Eighth Amendment, added to the constitution in 1983, recognises an unborn child's right to life.
A few hundred demonstrators joined together outside the Irish Embassy in the capital, chanting "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and "34 years since 83, stop sending women across the sea".
Placards among the crowd carried messages including: "Healthcare not Ryanair", and: "Irish women deserve better".
The campaigners attempted to make more than 205,700 white marks on the pavement to represent what they say is the number of women who have travelled to Great Britain from Northern Ireland and the Republic since 1983 to access a safe abortion.
Maeve O'Reilly, from the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, told the Press Association: "These journeys, which are often taken in silence and are very stigmatised and shameful in the eyes of our Government, we wanted to make them visible by making these physical marks on the pavement here today."
Ms O'Reilly said campaigners would like to see a specific date set for the referendum, adding: "I do think the conversations have been shifting a lot over the last few years and there is a conversation now, whereas a few years ago it wasn't really in the public domain and it wasn't on the agenda."
She said campaigners were encouraged by recent polls which she said have shown that "most Irish people want to see a liberalisation of Irish abortion laws".
She added: "We're really confident that the Irish public will engage with this issue, will have a good debate and people will begin to see that abortion is already happening. It's just not happening in Ireland.
"And the time has come to kind of wake up to that and do better for our women and offer this care at home, rather than exiling them to other countries."
The efforts of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates are set to intensify now that a time frame for the vote has been set.
Ms O'Reilly acknowledged that there is a vocal opposition to the pro-choice campaign but said she did not want to frame it as a "binary fight between two sides".
She added: "I think it's far more nuanced than that and I think the Irish public can pick up on that too - that it's not black and white, it's not 'I'm for, I'm against'.
"It might be framed that way in the media, but hopefully people will engage in respectful debate and work out all the nuances of the issue rather than it being so cut and dry."