Facebook and Google have banned ads ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum

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Image: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne
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Tech giants are ensuring they have as little impact as possible on Ireland’s upcoming abortion referendum.

On May 8, Facebook started to block ads related to the referendum that didn’t originate from advertisers in Ireland. A day later, Google announced it would suspend all ads related to the referendum. The ads will be blocked until the Irish go to the polls on May 25.

“Following our update around election integrity efforts globally, we have decided to pause all ads related to the Irish referendum on the Eighth Amendment,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. The Eighth Amendment, which was added to the Irish constitution in 1983, acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.”

In practice, this means that Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Abortion is only allowed to be carried out to save a woman’s life. If a woman seeks an abortion otherwise—even in the case of rape or incest—she can be punished by up to 14 years in prison. Irish people are now voting on whether to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on most abortions.

While pro-choice campaigners were in support of the tech giants’ unprecedented move, anti-abortion groups were unhappy. In a joint statement by Save The 8th, Pro Life Campaign and The Iona Institute, campaigners describe the ban as “an attempt to rig the referendum.” They claim that the internet was “the only platform available to the NO campaign to speak to voters directly,” adding that is “now being undermined.”

Opinions poll suggest the campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment will win with a narrow majority.

The upcoming referendum is one of many historic moments in the island nation over the last few years. In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote. Last year, Ireland elected Leo Varadkar, a 39-year-old gay Asian doctor, as prime minister. Varadkar has since come out in favor of liberalizing abortion laws.