A few words to go with those exit polls in Ireland…

IT’S fair to say that I may have read more than the average number of words on the Irish abortion debate, although not all of them will have stuck in my mind.

At the time of writing, exit polls by The Irish Times and RTE suggest a 69% vote for Yes – in other words, to repeal part of the constitution, the Eighth Amendment, that effectively bans terminations.

At the time of writing times two, the counting has only just begun so we will only know the result for sure later today.

This issue has received a reasonable amount of coverage in Britain. Over the sea in Ireland, the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment has been a cause of endless debate, some of it heated, much of it falling strongly on one side or other of the divide.

My reason for having read so many words on this contentious matter is spending two days a week editing stories for an Irish newspaper.

As a man, and an Englishman too, I have hesitated to enter these waters, although there is no question that a Yes vote is the only modern way ahead.

My hesitancy can be traced to being a man, yes, and also because men, and the state and the Catholic Church have been telling Irish women what they can and can’t do with their bodies for far too long.

I almost feel it shouldn’t matter what a man thinks, but here goes.

For my tastes, the No side concentrated too much on the grisly reality of abortion, running gruesome narratives and posters as if that settled the argument.

Yes, abortion is a horrible procedure and a terrible thing to have to do. But Irish women are having abortions anyway – although the system forces them to do so clandestinely or in another country, miles from home and in miserable circumstances, despite the good care they usually receive here in England.

The history of this debate is long and tortuous, with many disturbing stopping-off points, including what became known as the X Case from 1992. ‘X’ was a 14-year-old rape victim who became suicidal after what had happened to her. She was initially prevented by the courts from travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy – a heartless way to treat a young victim.

That case led to three possible amendments to the constitution: one of these, the Twelfth Amendment, proposed that “the possibility of suicide was not a sufficient threat to justify an abortion”, as the BBC website helpfully reminds us. That amendment was rejected.

Anyway, the full result will be known this evening, and the Sunday Independent will have a perfectly timed story for tomorrow’s edition.

This doesn’t always happen on Sunday newspapers. Three years of Saturday subbing shifts on The Observer in the 1980s saw only two big stories breaking perfectly for a Sunday publication.

One was the sinking of the Townsend Thoresen ferry the Herald and Free Enterprise.

The other was the killing in Anderstown, Belfast, of two undercover British army corporals who drove, apparently by mistake, into a funeral procession for an IRA member. Both men were dragged from their cars, stripped, beaten and shot – a sober reminder that life in Northern Ireland has improved in the past 30 years.

As I will be spending the afternoon and evening editing words about the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, I thought I’d offer a few of my own. But proper work beckons now.

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