In Brief

Ireland abortion referendum goes down to the wire

Undecideds hold the key as Yes campaign sees lead disappear

Polls for this Friday’s referendum on legalising abortion in Ireland show support for the No campaign gaining ground, with the one in five voters still undecided holding the key to which side will win out.

It means that a result once nearly taken for granted “now hangs in the balance”, says The Guardian, as the media comes under fierce attack for bias and questions swirl about foreign influence and online ads.

Driven by the powerful Catholic Church, Ireland has the strictest controls on abortion of any western country – dating back to a 1980s amendment in the constitution which enshrined a near-total ban on all terminations.

A woman convicted of having an illegal termination faces up to 14 years imprisonment.

It had been thought a growing urban and younger demographic had decisively shifted support in favour of repealing the amendment, but rural, religious and older voters have mobilised to put a Yes vote in jeopardy.

Friday’s vote is the first major plebiscite in a western country since the Cambridge Analytica scandal shone a light on the sometimes nefarious tactics used to micro-target potential swing voters.

Following allegations of foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and US presidential election, US tech giants have moved to change the rules on political advertising in the run up to the referendum.

Google has banned all adverts linked to the vote, while Facebook has barred foreign groups from paying for ads, and introduced a new transparency tool so anyone in Ireland can track advertisements  online.

The move has been criticised by No campaigners, who say they were relying on social media to bypass the conventional mainstream news outlets which they claim are bias in favour of a change in the law.

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