Repeal campaign seeks to follow marriage equality example

Together for Yes has set itself up to appeal to middle-ground voters

The Together for Yes group which represents over 70 organisations who are advocating a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment have officially launched their campaign in Dublin city centre. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

There was whooping, hollering and standing ovations. There were impassioned speeches and hugs aplenty. There were babies, too, lots of them, displaying mixed levels of co-operation.

All that was to be expected at the launch of Together for Yes. But what was more noteworthy was firstly how much the group is seeking to model itself on the successful campaign for marriage equality, and secondly how much it has set itself up to appeal to the middle ground, which is inclined towards repeal but uneasy with abortion being broadly available.

If the choice of venue at the Rotunda was a bit incongruous – it is, after all a campaign for legalised abortion launched in the grounds of a maternity hospital – it was chosen specifically because of its links with the Yes Equality campaign, which began there in 2015.

Tone

Back then, the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage sought to understand and appreciate the middle-ground doubts about the proposal; that was very much the tone of this event too.

“We will be respectful of people’s positions and views, whatever they are,” said Ailbhe Smyth, a veteran of the marriage equality campaign.

“We need space for the middle ground who may be a bit unsure,” said former judge Catherine McGuinness.

Research carried out by the campaign has guided this approach. In particular, research for the National Women’s Council before Christmas found the “rights” approach to the abortion question – championed by Amnesty International in its long campaign to change the Constitution – left many middle-ground voters cold. Amnesty is not part of this umbrella group.

Exceptional cases

The approach that prioritises an understanding outreach to those who are unsure – with strong reference to the exceptional cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities – is an important strategic choice for the repeal campaign.

But it will also need to engage with – and win, with sufficient numbers – the substantive argument on abortion. That argument will come down, for many people, to the Government’s proposal to make abortion legal on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. That effort will be hard fought.

The repeal campaign certainly has lessons to learn from Yes Equality, but perhaps it is as important to realise where this referendum will be different.

Although there was actually a fair bit of rancour and bitterness at the time, people now remember the 2015 campaign as upbeat and positive, even joyful. Senior repealers acknowledge this will be different. They may regard it as necessary, but few celebrate abortion.

The whooping and hollering will be in short supply over the next two months.

Abortion: The Facts

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