De Londras, the Birmingham professor, runs a site dedicated to addressing voters’ legal questions about the referendum. She told me she tends to get the same three questions over and over again: What does the Eighth Amendment actually do? What does the government plan to replace it with? How will that new legislation relate to the U.K.’s abortion law? The Irish government has addressed some of these questions already: According to draft legislation put forward by Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, the government will propose legislating to allow women to seek abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. After that point, abortions will only be accessible if the pregnancy poses a fatal or serious risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or in the event of a fatal fetal abnormality.
Ailbhe Smyth, the co-director of the Together for Yes campaign, praised the government’s proposed legislation. “There had been a very long, democratic process leading up to this proposed legislation,” she told me in reference to the Citizens’ Assembly, a group of 99 Irish citizens who advised the government to seek less restrictive abortion access last year. “We were quite reassured [to see that] some of the key points that had been made during that deliberative process were actually still in there in the law the government is proposing.”
But advocates for keeping the Eighth Amendment say the government’s proposal goes too far, and could sway undecided voters to vote against the measure. “To go from a country that values the life of the unborn child ... to a country that is embracing a very liberal abortion proposal, is just something that the Irish people don’t want,” Abigail Malone, the Save the 8th campaign’s press secretary, told me, adding: “Ultimately, we’re not being asked to trust women, we’re not being asked to trust doctors—we’re being asked to trust politicians.”
Malone told me the reason many anti-abortion advocates oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment and giving the government room to legislate is that there is no way of guaranteeing what the new law will look like, nor is there a way to guarantee it won’t change again in the future.
Meanwhile, Fionnuala Nic Mhathúna, a “No” supporter from the town of Sallins, told me she felt the government has already made up its mind on what abortion legislation will look like if the Eighth Amendment is repealed. “They’ve already written this bill—it’s already written and it has nothing to do with me,” she said. “They want abortion, they want to kill children in this country, and that’s it.”
Yet preventing lawmakers from legislating on the issue doesn’t make abortion any less accessible for Irish women, provided they can afford to travel. Abortion is technically illegal in Ireland, but it’s not unlawful for Irish women to seek abortion services outside the country—and many do. In 2016, more than 3,000 Irish women traveled to the U.K. for abortion services. While the vast majority of these terminations took place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, U.K. law permits abortions up to 24 weeks (and later, under certain circumstances).
“Right now, the law that Irish women get abortions under is English abortion law,” de Londras said, noting that for many Irish people the U.K. law makes abortion too readily available. “People really are concerned with that.”
As the voting took place, others were concerned about a change that is yet to come. “It’s a huge moment in all our lives—but I find it’s still a very, very contentious subject,” Mhathúna said. “People will fall out over it.”