If the yes campaign was bruised by a drop in the polls last week, it certainly wasn’t showing at the launch on Thursday of Hear Me Out, an initiative encouraging people to talk to undecided voters ahead of Friday’s referendum,.
Whether you’ve been negatively affected by the Eighth Amendment or know someone who has, the campaign hopes that “through gentle conversations and sharing stories” you can “help others understand the compassion, care and dignity a Yes vote will afford the women of Ireland”.
So amiable was the atmosphere at the launch, that in a room filled with the sound of clinking teacups and animated chatter, the thrum of camera shutters was the only thing identifying this as a press call, not a tea party. At a table in the centre of the room, author Marian Keyes is resplendent in yes paraphernalia, with a badge each side of her floral dress, and a silver yes dangling from a chain between them.
Keyes was advocating for this cause before there was even a whiff of a referendum, and today she is resolute.
“People are confused and frightened because there’s a lot of misinformation and conflicting facts flying around,” she says. “But when people hear the facts, I think they realise the only possible vote is yes.
She’s flanked on one side by Kerry senator Ned O’Sullivan, who admits (on the yes side at least) that men have been “rather slow to get into this debate”.
“I personally would have felt it’s primarily a matter for women,” he says. “But on the joint Oireachtas committee I was confronted with legal and medical information, along with heart breaking stories of individual women. I think it’s incumbent on men of all ages to come out and show our support for the women of Ireland.
This isn’t about women in some faraway place,” he adds, “these are your neighbours, your friends, your relatives.
Across the table, Christy Moore greets actress Pauline McLynn, and when Minister Simon Harris arrives, there are the inevitable Mrs Doyle gags as McLynn pours the tea.
Lighthearted though it is, all involved are acutely aware of the seriousness of the issue. As both sides home in on that piece of the pie chart that represents undecided voters, the no campaign have attempted to pull focus from the tragedies they would dismiss as “hard cases”.
Hear Me Out — conceived long before Maria Steen coined the term “social abortion” — isn’t a response to that, but it is an acknowledgement that those undecided voters, who will likely determine the referendum result, can be swayed by personal testimonies. And as Harris points out, the polls show “there’s no room for complacency”.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity,” he says. “The decision will be made on the day by those who turn up.”
To that end, Christy Moore insists he’s not there to tell anyone how to vote.
“I would just urge people to use their vote,” he says. “I’d say look into your heart, think about the women in these terrible situations; think about your own sisters and your own daughters, and have compassion, not hatred.
“I’m here because I support the campaign. I support the right for women to have a choice, and my mother, my wife, my sisters and my family feel the same way, so — having a bit of a public face — I’m here to represent them.”
“If you vote yes, you’re not changing your personal beliefs on abortion,” says Keyes. “You’re still entitled to your position — nobody would ever force anyone to have an abortion they didn’t want — but you would be opening up the choice to another women who might find herself in a crisis situation.
Our women do so much. They make up half the workforce, do most of the unpaid housework and childcare, and they mind sick and elderly relatives. We trust them with an awful lot — can we not trust them to make this one decision over their own body?
“After all,” she says, “these are not women on the margins of Irish society. They are the women who blow-dry our hair, they are our boss at work, they’re politicians, they’re the women beeping our groceries through the till, they’re our friends, our sisters, our daughters, our nieces, and they have reflected long and hard on their decision.
“We make it so difficult for women to access abortion, legally, financially, logistically and emotionally, and despite that, people with crisis pregnancies have found their situation so difficult that they overcome all those obstacles. They obviously feel very strongly about it – can we not respect that?”
McLynn agrees. “The word ‘abortion’ kind of makes people go funny,” she says, “and I think a lot of people have been frightened by the tactics of the no campaign. One of the problems for the yes campaign is that a smiling, happy, relieved woman on a poster doesn’t have the impact of some of the horrifying images the no campaign have used. Hear Me Out is about encouraging conversations about the issues.
“I’m trying to talk to five people a day. If I see people looking at my yes badge, I stop them and say, ‘Do you want to talk?’”
At this stage, she says, every yes voter has a part to play in allaying the fears of those who remain undecided.
“One by one we can convince people that yes is the compassionate vote,” she says.
“If people walk into a booth dithering, there’s a chance they’ll vote no, just to maintain the status quo. Please!” she says, “don’t make up your mind on the day. Talk to people — hear them out.”