Irish Antiabortion Campaigners Rally Ahead of Eighth Amendment Referendum

Campaigners to retain Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion held their last major rally in Dublin on Saturday, two weeks ahead of a vote on the procedure in one of the few European countries that still outlaws it.

The organizers said tens of thousands of abortion opponents demonstrated near Ireland’s legislature, seeking to gather support to keep the ban. The Irish will vote on May 25 on whether to repeal the 1983 ban on abortion, which was the eighth amendment to the country’s constitution.

“We need to boldly speak up for the eighth amendment in these vital days,” said Cora Sherlock, one of the campaign’s leaders, to a crowd waving banners and balloons in bright sunshine.

Ireland is among a small handful of European countries that outlaw the procedure. Northern Ireland, Poland and Malta also outlaw abortion in all or most cases.

Opinion polls consistently point to a majority In favor of lifting the ban. A late April poll conducted by Ipsos Mori found 47% of potential voters backed repeal, with 28% opposed and more than a fifth undecided.

The poll recorded that the gap between the two sides had narrowed since the government—which advocates a lifting of the ban—said that, if the ban is lifted, it would propose allowing women to have access to abortion only up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in most cases. Women could terminate their pregnancies later in certain limited circumstances.

The campaign to lift the ban said Saturday it has secured the support of 1,000 practicing doctors at an event attended by Minister for Health Simon Harris, who is one of the chief architects of the referendum. One of the campaign’s main arguments is that the ban doesn’t prevent Irish women from having abortions, but instead forces them to travel to the U.K. and other countries, or take the risk of buying medicines online. Over 150,000 Irish women have traveled to the U.K. to terminate unwanted pregnancies since 1980.

“Today, there are nine women getting on a plane, leaving our country to access termination, because we have let them down,” Mr. Harris said. “And there are three women who will take medication to bring on a termination, alone, in their bedrooms and bathrooms.”

The referendum has resonated deeply in a country that is still overwhelmingly Catholic, but many have turned away from the church in the wake of a series of clerical child abuse scandals. In 2016, 78% of Irish said they were Catholic, down from 93% in 1981, according to a government census.

With less than two weeks until the vote, the government has been increasingly preoccupied by a scandal over a state-run program for detecting cervical cancer that had falsely cleared some women. The resignations of some of the officials involved, as well as fresh revelations of missteps in dealing with the problem, have knocked the abortion referendum off the front pages and the radio news broadcasts that play a major part in Irish political debate.

At the same time, the antiabortion campaign suffered a setback when Alphabet Inc.’s Google announced Wednesday that it would stop carrying advertisements related to the referendum from May 10.

That followed a similar announcement from Facebook Inc. that it will limit advertisements on the referendum from groups based overseas. The internet firms said they were acting as part of a global effort to provide more transparency around political advertising. Facebook has come under fire following revelations about the abuse of users’ personal information and interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by Russian operatives using the social network.

Campaigners to retain the ban criticized those moves, saying access to social-media platforms is needed to offset what they see as bias in favor of repeal among Ireland’s established media outlets. “The [pro-repeal] side doesn’t need Google to campaign,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain, another leader of the campaign to keep the ban.

The internet companies decided to act after lawmakers who favor repealing the ban expressed concerns that some advertisements were being placed by unidentified overseas groups, pointing to research by the Transparent Referendum Initiative, a group of social-media specialists that has been monitoring online campaigning.

—Stu Woo in London contributed to this article.

Write to Paul Hannon at paul.hannon@wsj.com

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