Abortion in Ireland is currently only allowed if the life of the mother is at risk
Dublin (AFP) - Thousands gathered in Dublin on Saturday for the final major pro-life rally ahead of Ireland's referendum on whether it should liberalise its tight abortion laws.
Under the banner of "Love Both Vote No", people crowded into the capital's Merrion Square, site of the houses of parliament.
Demonstrators held up placards reading "Compassion for both" showing a mother and baby, "No abortion on demand" and "Also your niece, your friend, your grandchild".
Others read: "Where there is life, there is hope", "There's always a better answer than abortion", "Voice for the voiceless", "My heartbeat started at 22 days" and "Repeal kills. Vote No."
All generations were represented in the crowd and some held balloons in an 8 shape, recalling that the vote is on repealing the Irish constitution's eighth amendment.
Voters decide on May 25 whether to remove the 1983 constitutional restriction on abortion -- a highly sensitive issue in a traditionally devoutly Catholic country.
Love Both Vote No spokeswoman Cora Sherlock told the rally that the government would unveil a family doctors-led abortion service that would eventually lead to unrestricted access to abortion.
"Genuine healthcare is about saving lives, not ending them," she said.
Priests and nuns were present but there were few religious messages.
Speakers said the existing legislation had spared thousands of lives.
Despite the pro-life camp being behind in the polls, Ben Scallan, a 20-year-old computer science student and occasional campaign volunteer, says victory is possible.
"I'd be worried if I were them: they fell by about 20 percent in the last couple of months and we've gained 10 percent, so the gap is closing and closing," he said.
According to the latest poll by Kantar Millward Brown for the Sunday Independent newspaper, some 45 percent are in favour of changing the abortion law while 34 percent back the status quo, with 18 percent undecided.
- Grief over loss -
The crowd heard from a student who said his own life had been saved by Ireland's current abortion laws, and a young mother who decided to keep her baby after a crisis pregnancy.
Bernadette Goulding, who runs a support group for women who have gone through with an abortion -- often in neighbouring Britain -- and later regretted it, said there was no focus on grief and little support to help women through their loss, national broadcaster RTE reported.
"For every abortion there's a man who is deeply wounded in his heart," she added.
At the end of the event, Maire Cassidy, dressed in pink, gave out canvas bags with the Love Both logo on. She said the challenge of the final fortnight was to inform the undecided.
"Our focus these days is to get people to vote and to clarify what the debate is about," she said.
"We're asked to vote on unrestricted abortion until 12 weeks. I think that if the Irish people actually knew what the issues were they'd come out and vote 'No'."
On Saturday, Doctors Together for Yes launched their public database of more than a thousand doctors backing repeal.