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Fionola Meredith: Decision day on Irish abortion here ... but can we count on men to support Yes?

The vote is, by its nature, a women's issue, says Fionola Meredith, yet today we need support of men more than ever


Milestone moment: the referendum on abortion in the Republic is a defining event for the nation

Milestone moment: the referendum on abortion in the Republic is a defining event for the nation

Milestone moment: the referendum on abortion in the Republic is a defining event for the nation

Today is the day when the people of the Irish Republic decide whether they trust women to make the right choices for their own lives and their own bodies. Should the Eighth Amendment, which effectively bans abortion, be repealed?

I pray that the answer to that will be a resounding yes. It is the only response worthy of a society that considers itself free.

This is an unusual referendum - quite different from the Brexit vote, for example - because half the people who are eligible to have their say are not, and can never be, directly affected by the huge humanitarian issue at stake. They will never directly experience what it means to have a crisis pregnancy.

I'm talking about men, of course.

As we all know, whatever our view on the matter, it can be difficult to stay completely rational on such an important, emotive topic.

When I hear an archbishop telling women that their lives are precious and valuable, yet opposing abortion in all circumstances, or when I read about a high-profile GAA manager using his prominent position to speak about respecting and cherishing women but calling repeal "a culture of death", I feel the rage rising in me.

How easy it is for men like this to indulge their piety, their reverence for the sanctity of life, when they have no conception whatsoever - never have done, never will do - what it feels like to be pregnant when it's the last thing you want to be. Or what it means to carry a much-wanted baby, within your own body, who cannot survive outside the womb.

They have no clue what nine long months of pregnancy, or the momentous, literally life-changing act of bringing a child into the world, feels like either.

How dare they? What gives them the right to dictate what happens with a woman's uterus? By what authority do they presume to so radically influence the course of a woman's life?

Well, that's how my viscerally charged inner monologue of frustration goes. It was the same when I discovered that the cross-party 'pro-life' group at Stormont was made up entirely of - yes, you guessed it - male politicians. I found it both ridiculous and offensive to think of them up there on the hill, closeted in a pious little cabal, plotting how to prevent women accessing their reproductive rights.

But cool reason must prevail, however heated the emotions get. And the fact remains that men (and women) who hold anti-abortion views are, of course, absolutely entitled to them. Likewise, they cannot and should not be stopped from expressing them. Their votes will count as much, and have exactly the same weight, as any other in today's referendum.

Besides, it isn't a female-only decision. It's an all-country decision.

That's why the contribution of men who basically support, rather than deny, a woman's right to choose will be so vital here.

If you subtract the people who are strongly motivated by personal conscience, political commitment, or religious conviction to vote for or against repeal, you're left with a vast swathe of people somewhere in the middle.

And I'd take a punt that a lot of those people will be blokes. Women, at least theoretically, have skin in the game, in that if they are of childbearing age they could find themselves considering a termination at some point.

But I suspect that there are plenty of men out there who believe that what a woman does with her body is a her business, yet may not be sufficiently exercised about it to come out and cast their vote.

And that's the big risk. If these silent but broadly supportive men don't give their votes to the repeal side, the result could very well swing the other way.

The polls in the run-up to the referendum show a definite narrowing of the gap between the two positions, with the Yes side only marginally ahead.

Abortion is definably a female issue, since women are the ones who end up bearing children. But today they cannot carry the burden of change alone.

If all the women in the country who believe in the need for change voted yes in the referendum, it would still not be enough to win it. The men must step up too.

True, they will never experience the mental anguish of a crisis pregnancy, but they have partners and wives and sisters who very well might.

For men, a vote for repeal is a vote for respect, care, generosity, love - and the right for every person to choose their own destiny, in their own way.

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