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Ireland Abortion Vote: ‘It’s Not a Man’s Issue,’ but Male Turnout Is Crucial

ASHBOURNE, Ireland — Until recently, Aoife and Muiriosa O’Sullivan, 23-year-old twins from a religiously conservative family, led nearly identical lives: They wore identical clothes until they were in their early teens, studied the same subjects in college and both went into teaching.

Yet, aside from a quibble over the virtues of veganism, they parted ways for the first time over what could be a defining moment for them and their generation: a divisive referendum on legalizing abortion, set to take place on Friday.

Aoife (pronounced EE-fuh) plans to vote for the measure, saying that a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body. Muiriosa is against abortion under any circumstance, saying she is opposed on moral and religious grounds to the taking of a life.

The pair, who grew up in Waterford, on the southeastern coast of Ireland, are hardly alone in finding themselves on opposite ends of a bitter and seemingly irreconcilable row. The argument over the referendum has exposed wide divisions among Irish women and has emerged to some extent as a debate among women for women.

In contrast to the United States, where male politicians, donors and social commentators have often dominated the abortion issue, many men in this Irish vote are tending to hang back, seeing abortion as a woman’s matter. That is in large part a reaction to earlier generations, when women’s issues in Ireland were solely decided by men, including leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

Theresa Reidy, a professor of government at University College Cork who has studied Ireland’s many past referendums, said that women were expected to turn out in bigger numbers than men on Friday, a departure from previous votes on various issues. “Abortion is so gender specific,” Ms. Reidy said, “that there is a substantial reason that male and female turnouts will be different.”

But far from marginalizing men, this trend has put them in the cross hairs of the opposing campaigns, which have sent droves of male workers into the streets and lined up support from male celebrities.

“There is concern about how men will vote,” said Brendan O’Neill, an abortion rights supporter and the editor of Spiked, which he described as a libertarian online magazine. “I am a huge believer in women’s rights, but there is a trend toward women pushing men to stay in their lane.” With polls showing a tight vote, however, he said wryly, “you really need the manpower.”

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