Thousands of campaigners calling for the retention of Ireland’s strict abortion laws have held a rally in Dublin.
The Stand Up for Life demonstration on Merrion Square near the Irish parliament took place with less than two weeks to go before a landmark referendum on the state’s constitutional restriction on terminations.
Clerics, doctors and women who have experienced abortions addressed the event calling for a No vote.
Nuns and monks were among a diverse crowd of young and old amid an upbeat atmosphere in the Dublin sunshine.
Colourful banners were displayed urging people to protect the unborn.
A smaller pro-choice counter-demonstration was held outside the gates of the parliament at Leinster House amid a low key gardai presence.
On Friday May 25, Irish citizens will be asked whether they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment of Ireland’s Constitution, a provision that makes abortion illegal in all but exceptional circumstances.
They will vote on whether the contentious amendment, which gives the mother and unborn an equal right to life, should be replaced with wording that hands responsibility for setting the country’s abortion laws to politicians.
If the public votes to repeal, the Irish Government will table legislation that would permit women to legally abort within 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Among merchandise on offer at one of the stalls at Saturday’s anti-abortion rally were silicon foetuses, representing what the unborn looks like at 12 week gestation.
No activist Dr Ruth Cullen, of the LoveBoth campaign, claimed the Government’s proposal would enable abortion on demand in Ireland.
“There is nothing restrictive about the Government’s proposals on abortion,” she said.
“A ‘No’ vote on 25th May is the only way to avoid abortion on demand in Ireland.
“It’s really encouraging though the way people are starting to scrutinise the Government’s proposals and see for themselves just how extreme it is.”
The Stand Up For Life rally was one of a number of referendum events on Saturday as both sides of the emotive debate intensified the campaigning.
On Saturday morning, doctors who favour repeal held a Together for Yes summit in the city.
They unveiled a declaration signed by more than 1,000 doctors in Ireland calling for the end of the Eighth Amendment.
Spokesman Dr Mark Murphy said: “Doctors across Ireland want change. We want repeal. We are here today to say that the 8th amendment isn’t working – it puts doctors in a constitutional straitjacket which holds us back from providing proper care to our patients.”
The event was attended by Health minister Simon Harris, one of the key political figures in the Yes campaign.
He insisted claims the proposed legislation would pave the way for unrestricted abortions were not true.
Mr Harris said: “If we want a change in this county, if we want to look after people with care and compassion who experience fatal foetal abnormalities, if we want to be able to look after a rape victim who has found herself pregnant in this country, if we want to stop the situation where nine women every day leave our country to go to Britain for termination or three women every day take abortion pills without medical supervision we need to repeal the Eighth.”
Elsewhere, the Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly issued a pastoral reflection urging a No vote.
“As a people we are in the throes of a massive movement to abandon the protection given in our laws and as contained in the Constitution of Ireland to new human life,” he wrote.
“The proposal is to entirely remove all legal protection from every single child in this country for the first twelve weeks of his or her existence, and for the full term in the womb in certain cases.
“It is to this that we will be saying Yes if we put ‘X’ in the ‘Yes’ box at the referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from our Constitution.”