Abortion debate rages in Ireland ahead of referendum on whether to lift decades-old ban

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Associated Press

In homes and pubs, on leaflets and lampposts, debate is raging in Ireland over whether to lift the country's decades-old ban on abortion. 

Pro-repeal banners declare: "Her choice: vote yes." 

Anti-abortion placards warn against a "licence to kill."

Online, the argument is just as charged and more shadowy, as unregulated ads of uncertain origin battle to sway voters before tomorrow's referendum, which could give Irish women the right to end their pregnancies for the first time.

The highly charged campaign took a twist this month when Facebook and Google moved to restrict or remove ads relating to the abortion vote.

Few subjects are more emotive than abortion, especially in largely Roman Catholic Ireland. 

Despite the country's growing diversity and liberalism - voters legalised gay marriage in a 2015 referendum - the result is expected to be close. 

The campaign is being watched, and sometimes influenced, by anti-abortion groups in the US and elsewhere.

Voters are being asked whether they want to keep or repeal the eighth amendment to Ireland's constitution, added in 1983, which commits authorities to defend equally the right to life of a mother and an unborn child. 

Abortion is legal only in rare cases when the woman's life is in danger, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to terminate pregnancies in neighbouring Britain.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's centre-right government backs lifting the ban and allowing abortion on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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