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Irish Voters Divided on Abortion

March 6, 2002

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DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Voters expressed strong divisions Wednesday as they decided whether to amend Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, but many united in declaring the referendum too complicated and a waste of time.

The proposed amendment, if approved in a result to be announced Thursday, would confirm that abortion is legal to save a pregnant woman’s life. But it would overrule a decade-old Supreme Court judgment that the risk of suicide should be included in this category.

``Sure, it doesn’t matter how we vote. The result will be the same. Anybody who wants an abortion will just keep on going to England,″ said Marian Loftus, a 37-year-old Dublin mother of two, who voted against the proposals.

``I think the government just keeps asking us questions on abortion hoping we’ll change our minds one day,″ said Sarah Kennedy, 57, who went into the polling station accompanied by her granddaughter to vote to approve the amendment. ``They’re cowards really. They should just pass the laws themselves.″

The referendum was the third on abortion in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation in two decades. It looked likely to attract much less participation than the previous two, with foul weather and apathy deterring voters from the polls.

In 1983, voters approved an amendment forbidding lawmakers to pass any laws that would permit abortion in Ireland.

But in 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that abortions were legal in cases where continued pregnancy would kill a woman _ including from her own threatened suicide.

That landmark judgment effectively legalized abortions in such circumstances, but doctors have refused to offer abortions to suicidal women in the absence of legislation. Successive governments have refused, insisting that voters must approve or reject any change in abortion law.

A 1992 referendum legalized the right of Irish women to receive information on foreign abortion services and to travel overseas for abortions. That principally meant England, where abortion was legalized in 1967 _ and where about 7,000 pregnant Irish women underwent abortions last year.

In the 1992 referendum, voters rejected a third proposal which would have blocked a suicide threat as legal grounds for abortion.

Wednesday’s proposed amendment covered much the same ground. And just as in 1992, voters were voting ``no″ for widely disparate reasons.

``This government is totally unscrupulous. It would say anything to get you to vote their way,″ said Sile O’Reilly, 60, who voted no because, she said, ``you couldn’t get me to say yes to abortion no matter how you dressed it up.″

But other voters were just as adamant that the proposed amendment must be defeated to force lawmakers to pass legislation in keeping with the decade-old court judgment.

Clare McNamee reflected the mixed feelings expressed by so many people.

``I really wish they weren’t asking us these questions,″ said McNamee, who voted yes. ``In my conscience I can’t vote to permit any abortions. But I’m sure if I was poor, pregnant, suicidal and unable to get an abortion, I’d be angry with people like me.″

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