Look­ing for a Yes in the county that said No in 2015 ref­er­en­dum

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - IL­LE­GAL PILLS

When a house­holder says she doesn’t want abor­tion in any cir­cum­stance, other than when there is a risk to the life of the mother, the can­vassers po­litely thank her and move on.

The Yes can­vasser Briege Ful­lam from Roscom­mon town shows no an­i­mos­ity to­wards those who take an op­pos­ing view, and dis­likes the way Roscom­mon has been por­trayed as a con­ser­va­tive out­post.

“We know our friends and neigh­bours and many of them have con­ser­va­tive views, but they are very good peo­ple,” says Briege. “It doesn’t make them any less wor­thy.”

Among the def­i­nite No vot­ers, a woman of African back­ground says she does not want to see an “abor­tion free-for-all”, par­tic­u­larly if teenagers be­come preg­nant.

The can­vasser sug­gests that the av­er­age age of women hav­ing an abor­tion is older, but there is no budg­ing this voter on her view of abor­tion.

Doire­ann Markham says: “At first, when the cam­paign started, peo­ple were very ret­i­cent about talk­ing about the is­sue, but that has changed as the cam­paign has gone on.

“Peo­ple are much more pre­pared to open up about it now.”

The ap­proach of the Yes cam­paign­ers is to em­pha­sise that abor­tion is al­ready hap­pen­ing — ei­ther through women trav­el­ling to Eng­land, or by women tak­ing un­reg­u­lated abor­tion pills.

That was the strat­egy of the Yes side in the ref­er­en­dum de­bate on The Late Late Show, and it is sim­i­lar as the can­vassers go door-to-door.

Doire­ann Markham tells a voter: “In­stead of women hav­ing to travel to Eng­land for an abor­tion, or take il­le­gal pills, they would be able to do it safely in Ire­land through their GP. We think it is bet­ter if she is prop­erly taken care of by her doc­tor.”

This strat­egy of of­fer­ing a choice be­tween abor­tion in Eng­land or il­le­gal pills, and reg­u­lated abor­tion in Ire­land, seems to have res­onated with vot­ers such as Mag­gie Har­ney and her daugh­ter Aileen. They stand proudly on the doorstep of a bun­ga­low with Aileen’s nine-month-old baby Pa­trick.

Mag­gie says: “Peo­ple are go­ing to have abor­tions any­way — so why give money for it to an­other coun­try for them to do it.

“It’s aw­ful that they have to go to Eng­land, and even if they don’t they can buy the pills. I find the whole thing hor­ren­dous. Hope­fully it will be changed on May 25.”

Some of the high-pro­file cases — such as that of Savita Halap­panavar, who died of sep­sis af­ter be­ing re­fused a ter­mi­na­tion — are hav­ing an in­flu­ence on vot­ers.

Apol­o­gis­ing for the yap­ping of his dog, a man in his fifties out in his gar­den op­er­at­ing a leaf blower, said: “There have been some ter­ri­ble cases. I be­lieve a woman should be al­lowed to have an abor­tion when she is sick.”

There is also an at­ti­tude among a con­sid­er­able num­ber of men that they should not be the ones who de­cide if a woman can have an abor­tion.

In­di­cat­ing that he was a Yes voter, a ma­ture gentle­man on his bun­ga­low doorstep said: “Last time I looked, I wasn’t able to have chil­dren. So why should I have a say in it?”

On th­ese doorstep can­vasses, younger vot­ers are hard to reach — and most of those who an­swer the door are over fifty. Roscom­mon has an older age pro­file than most other counties, with a large num­ber of younger vot­ers leav­ing to find work or to go to col­lege.

While the un­der-thir­ties are con­sid­ered the strong­est sup­port­ers of Yes, the core group of cam­paign­ers out on Wed­nes­day evening were mostly over thirty. Women out­num­bered men by about five to one.

The core group of Roscom­mon To­gether for Yes can­vassers were joined by sup­port­ers from across the Shannon in West­meath, al­low­ing the team of over twenty sweep through the large res­i­den­tial area in a cou­ple of hours. While Sinn Féin and smaller par­ties are out cam­paign­ing for Yes in Roscom­mon — and the can­vass was joined by in­de­pen­dent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan — there is no sign of a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael pres­ence.

Many of the can­vassers, such as Julie O’Donoghue, have never been on a cam­paign be­fore, but feel strongly on this par­tic­u­lar is­sue.

Car­ry­ing around her six-month-old baby Ailbhe on the can­vass, Julie says: “I just be­lieve that women should be able to make the de­ci­sion them­selves and de­serve health­care through their doc­tor.”

By 8.30pm, with the sun be­gin­ning its de­scent over the gen­tle hills of Roscom­mon, it is time for the Yes can­vassers to head for home.

Ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers ad­vise that by this hour, it is best stop knock­ing on doors and ring­ing door­bells.

As Doire­ann Markham puts it, “There is one sure way of guar­an­tee­ing a No vote, and that is by wak­ing up a sleep­ing baby.”

“Many of our friends and neigh­bours have con­ser­va­tive views, but they are very good peo­ple. It doesn’t make them any less wor­thy”

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