Thousands rally in Ireland to oppose repeal of abortion laws

(Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne)FILE PHOTO - An anti-abortion protestor interrupts speeches during a march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, March 8, 2018.

Thousands of pro-life advocates took to the streets across Ireland on Saturday to oppose the legalization of abortion as the country prepares to vote on a referendum on the issue in May.

In Dublin, at least 10,000 protesters marched from Parnell Square to Merrion Square for the Rally for Life. Many held signs saying "Save Lives, Save the Eighth," "Repeal Kills Vote No" and "Keep Ireland Pro-Life."

Ireland is expected to hold a referendum in May to determine whether to replace or retain the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn child.

The government has announced that it will begin drafting legislation based on the recommendations made by an all-party parliamentary committee that would allow abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy without restrictions.

Saturday's protest has attracted people from all over the country and some from overseas. An estimated 90,000 people have taken part in the march, where a number of different religious groups were represented, according to organizers.

During the rally, pro-life advocates highlighted the rights of people with disabilities, noting that 90 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down Syndrome in Britain end in abortion. Those present at Merrion Square heard from a Down Syndrome activist who has previously addressed the U.N. on the issue.

Spokesperson Niamh Uí Bhriain noted that the protest was aimed at opposing abortion in Ireland, and added that the proposed legislation by the government would be even more liberal than in Britain.

"For the next 11 weeks our message will be focused on ensuring that the Irish people vote no to this extreme abortion referendum," Uí Bhriain said, according to RTE.

While Ireland has been known to be a pro-life and a Catholic stronghold, abortion has become a divisive issue in recent decades as the country continues to face cultural changes and the Catholic church tries to recover from sex abuse scandals and other controversies.

In January, two opinion polls have shown that over 50 percent of voters are in favor of a proposal to allow abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, with just under 30 percent opposed and others undecided.

Pro-life advocates have complained about the supposed strong media bias in favor of loosening the country's abortion laws, but they also noted that the pro-choice movement may be overconfident.

"We will win because of the hubris of the other side. Traditional Ireland has finally awoken," said Gerry McGeough, a 59-year-old member of the Catholic Irish nationalist group Ancient Order of Hibernians who had traveled from the Northern Ireland county of Tyrone with several busloads of activists.

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