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DUBLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Days before Irish voters cast their ballots in their country's May 25 abortion referendum, the gap between abortion supporters and opponents is closing.
A new Sky Data poll of attitudes on abortion reveals that 47 percent of those surveyed support legalizing abortion through the first trimester of pregnancy; right-to-life backers numbered 37 percent, while 11 percent remain undecided.
A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey, meanwhile, is showing that even among abortion supporters, approval is conditional: 30 percent think Ireland's proposal for abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks goes "too far."
The findings are remarkable considering the Goliaths facing Irish pro-lifers: the country's pro-abortion establishment media, American social media giants and rich international donors funneling cash to overturn Ireland's Eighth Amendment — the constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to life for the unborn.
Speaking with Church Militant earlier this week, Irish author and columnist John Waters, at the front lines of the pro-life battle, described what's at stake.
"This amendment is 35 years old and it's been under some pressure all along the way, from courts and from various lobbyists activists and so on," he said. "This is the most determined attempt upon it."
Of the six referendums on abortion since 1983, Friday's is the most crucial. Through it, Irish voters will decide whether to legalize abortion in their once deeply Catholic nation. If a majority of the electorate votes "Yes" — approving repeal of the Eighth Amendment — abortion on demand will be legalized through the first trimester, and in some cases, into the second and third trimesters.
Though polls have consistently shown the "Yes" side leading, pro-life advocates are praying for the significant number of undecided voters to swing their way.
"I do think we're going to win," said pro-life campaigner Tim Jackson. "The Yes side are falling in the polls all the time and the No side has all the momentum."
In Dublin, a pro-abortion stronghold, "Yes" supporters are nervous, too.
"I think we will win but I think it will be very tight," said one abortion activist. "It's such an emotive issue people don't want to express their feelings. A lot of people don't want to be known as a No voter."
The fate of Ireland's unborn likely will come down to the number of faithful Catholics and rural voters who head to the polls.
"Old tropes have been fleshed out during a heated referendum campaign: the city versus the countryside, the capital versus 'the rest'," noted "Yes" activist Ailbhe Smyth. "But there is still a very high proportion of don't knows."
"An urban/rural divide has been evident for previous 'moral issue' referendums in Ireland, explained electoral geographer Adrian Kavanagh. "When Ireland voted to legalise divorce in 1995 — by a margin of just 9,000 ballots — the number of those voting in favor was 14 percent lower in rural than in urban areas. For the 2015 vote to endorse same-sex marriage, the differential was 10 percent."
Harry Carr, head of Sky Data, observed that among self-identified Catholics, abortion supporters are in the majority:
Religious faith will play a critical role as polling day approaches. Catholics are split on the subject, with 45 percent supporting abortion up to 12 weeks and 40 percent opposed, contrasting with 69 percent support and 26 percent opposition amongst those with no religion. And Catholics are the most likely to be undecided — 15 percent answering don't know or preferring not to say, against 5 percent of those with no religion.
Father Ruairí O'Domhnaill said, "I would say to anyone who considers themselves Catholic who are considering voting ['Yes'] that they need to seriously ask themselves what they believe."
"The heart of our Christian faith is that God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and that he took on the human condition. That he was a living human being in the womb of Mary and it's fairly hard for anyone who would say that if they believed that to then say they didn't believe that he didn't have a right to be born."
Over the weekend, several of the country's Catholic bishops issued pastoral letters reminding voters of their duty to protect the unborn.
Bishop Alan McGuckian of Raphoe reaffirmed the "absolute sacredness of all life from conception to natural death."
"When we change or delete a law we run the risk of blinding ourselves over time to the truth behind it even though all the evidence we need is before our eyes," he said. "In our day we see more clearly than ever before how everything begins at conception."
Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross told voters they're "unborn babies' last line of defence."
"Ireland will be the first country in the world to hold a referendum to introduce abortion by popular vote," he noted. "Will the people of Ireland decide that there is no safe place for the unborn?"
Bishop Denis Nulty of the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin reminded the electorate that there is "nothing to be gained by denying the truth that our lives begin at conception. Everyone knows that a life has begun."
"The question," he said, "is whether it is right to deliberately stop that life being born."
If Ireland strips the unborn of their constitutional right to life, he added, "we can no longer defend ourselves from what flows from an abortion culture," pointing to the snowballing eugenic assault on the disabled and elderly wherever abortion has been legalized.
Speaking to Church Militant, Waters said that, overall, the bishops' response has been far too weak.
"There are a couple of them — I'd say no more than that — who are really excellent," he said.
But beyond this, Ireland's bishops "don't seem to really take this seriously ... they don't seem to want to come out, to risk their skins in the battlefields," he lamented.
"If this abomination passes, it will be the first time also that a people have voted to strike down the rights, the fundamental human rights, of a section of their own number," Waters added, echoing Bp. Buckley. "It's unprecedented in human history. Not even the Nazis succeeded in doing that. That's the level of this thing. It's an extraordinary abomination. It is an obscenity beyond description."
Faithful Irish Catholics are fighting the pro-abortion media messages and foreign cashflow with the Rosary.
Last November, 30,000 made a pilgrimage to the country's shores to pray for life and faith. Over the weekend of May 11–13, Rosary rallies were held at 85 sites across the country.
Mindful that the May 25 referendum isn't a domestic issue but a universal moral one, Irish faithful are asking Catholics around the world to stand with them, praying the Rosary and fasting in the lead-up to Friday's vote.