Vote over abortion ban underscores how Ireland is changing

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: Voters in Ireland
went to the polls today for an important vote. The Irish constitution bans abortions, even
in cases of rape and incest. A new constitutional amendment up for vote
today would allow Parliament to legalize abortion. And according to initial exit polls, it seems
to have succeeded. Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin
has our story. NICK SCHIFRIN: In this historically conservative
and religious society, the voting booths are in churches, and some of the voters show up
in habits. But old Irish habits are dying, and this is
not the same country once dominated by the Catholic Church. THERESA SWEENEY, Yes Voter: I woke up at 6:00
this morning. I’m not usually an early riser, but I couldn’t
wait to get down here to vote. NICK SCHIFRIN: Women like Theresa Sweeney
are trying to replace a law that can currently send women who get abortions to 14 years in
prison, with a law that would allow unrestricted abortions for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The campaign has been painful, and divided
families and friends. WOMAN: My son’s godmother and I actually had
a huge falling out. We haven’t spoken a year, because she’s a
nurse and she is voting yes. And I vote no. And it’s literally — it has actually divided
us. We are just not speaking at all. NICK SCHIFRIN: Both sides have made their
cases with personal stories. Amy Callahan has a new son, but in another
pregnancy, her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition. She couldn’t have an abortion in Ireland,
so she and her husband, Connor (ph), flew to the U.K. AMY CALLAHAN, Yes Voter: That night we had
the abortion, went off that night, and we brought Nico (ph) with us back to the hotel
room in a little box. And I hadn’t eaten in something like 48 hours. And Connor went off to get dinner. And I didn’t want to leave Nico. And the next day, we flew back to Ireland. And as we were walking in the airport, I turned
to Connor. We were walking through security, and I turned
to Connor and I was like, are they going to ask us to open the box? NICK SCHIFRIN: The Callahans want Irish women
to be able to get the help they need in Ireland. AMY CALLAHAN: It’s going to be medically safe. And for women like me, they’re going to get
the care that they need when their baby is dying anyway. NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes campaigners cite the case
of Savita Halappanavar, who in 2012 died after her fetus became stillborn, but the hospital
refused to give her an abortion. Shona Murray is a special correspondent with
The Irish Independent. SHONA MURRAY, The Irish Independent: It was
too late, and she died. And she died as a direct consequence of the
8th Amendment. NICK SCHIFRIN: The Catholic Church stills
runs the majority of schools here, and influences most of society, but scandals have eroded
its influence, especially among a younger generation. SHONA MURRAY: You also have a very young country,
a young population, a population that has grown up within the European Union, that has
engaged in progressive liberalism, that has traveled the world, and that’s the other side
of this. NICK SCHIFRIN: But no campaigners have their
own stories to tell. Vicky Wall chose to give birth to her daughter
Liadan (ph), even though she was born at 32 weeks with a fatal syndrome, and died shortly
after. VICKY WALL, No Voter: Liadan died at home
surrounded by her family, and with love and with care, and most of all with dignity. We have to look at what the choice entails. What are we saying we have the choice to do? We’re looking to have the choice to end a
unique human life. I am extremely pro-life, and I think life
should be protected. NICK SCHIFRIN: Twenty-year-old campaigner
Abigail Malone fears that women with healthy fetuses would choose to have an abortion. ABIGAIL MALONE, No Voter: Ireland needs to
remain a culture and remain a country that values the right to life of every unborn child. NICK SCHIFRIN: This is a once-in-a-generation
vote, and both sides admit it’s not just about abortion, but also about the soul of a still
traditional country that is now transforming. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin.

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