Wexford People

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Phoney war is over as battle lines are drawn in abortion referendum

After months, if not years, of speculation we finally know what we will be voting on when the referendum on the Eighth Amendment takes place.

Following the historic decision in the Dáil on Friday, the Government has been given the green light to go to the people in a bid to legislate for the abortion issue and resolve it, politically at least, once and for all.

When we go to the polls on referendum day - the date remains unknown but it should be announced by the end of the month - the people won't, technically, be voting on whether or not to legalise abortion but, in reality, that is exactly the question that is being put to the electorate.

If there is a vote to repeal the Eight Amendment the Government will, as was agreed by majority in the Dáil, press ahead with legislation to allow unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

This means that while the referendum will only ask voters whether they wish to remove the Eighth Amendment - and replace it with a clause allowing the Dáil to legislate on abortion - the electorate will, in effect, be voting on legalising abortion.

The question on the ballot paper might be different but its true meaning is clear to everyone on both sides of the debate.

It should also be pointed out that if voters chose to repeal the Eighth - and no matter what subsequently happens in the Leinster House - the public will, almost certainly, never again be asked to cast a vote on abortion.

For months now the 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' sides have been drawing their battle lines and fighting a phoney war ahead of the looming vote.

Both sides will have had a good idea on what was coming down the tracks but now that there is certainty, the battle - already extremely bitter and likely to get more so - will begin in earnest.

Few things are certain about the looming fight but it appears practically guaranteed that the legalisation of abortion up to 12 weeks will be the key issue in the campaign.

Issues such as fatal foetal abnormalites and abortion in the case of suicide risk will doubtless feature prominently in the campaign but the 12 week proposal will, in all likelihood, be the key issue .

How can we know this? Because the pro-life anti-repeal side has already indicated that if the Dáil backed the Citizen's Assembly proposal - as it now has - that they would make it the defining issue.

Crucially it may not only be the defining issue, it could very well be the deciding issue.

Undecided voters are likely to decide how the referendum vote goes and while most voters have indicated that they are in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment the introduction of unrestricted abortion up to 12 week is far less popular.

A recent Millward Brown poll showed that 52 per cent were either against the 12 week proposal (33 per cent) or unsure about it (19 per cent).

We know the referendum will be very bitter. It could also be very close.

Wexford People