Abortion referendum in Ireland: prime minister hails 'quiet revolution'

Hugh Fox
May 26, 2018

Here is a closer look at what this vote is about, what Ireland's eighth amendment stands for. and what happens if the amendment is repealed.

A poll released by Ireland's national broadcaster RTE shortly after polling stations closed Friday night predicted that almost 70% voted in in favor of repealing a 35-year-old amendment to Ireland's constitution that placed the rights of mother and embryo on the same footing.

Polls earlier this week showed a slim majority favoring repeal of the abortion ban, but the referendum is expected to come down to the wire. In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a public vote, and Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, became the country's leader past year.

"What we've seen today is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years", Varadkar told RTE, Ireland's public broadcaster. People in the countryside and small towns tend to be more conservative and more religious. "What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions", Save The 8th said in a statement.

Since 2013, terminations have only been allowed in Ireland when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide. Three years ago, Ireland itself became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

Anti-abortion activists on the "No" side said the Eighth Amendment had saved thousands of lives and focused in particular on preventing the abortion of fetuses with genetic abnormalities.

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The result caps a campaign that was bad tempered at times. Currently, terminations are only allowed when a woman's life is at risk.

Several of Ireland's most prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, have raised their voices in favour of repealing the anti-abortion law.

A "yes" vote, meanwhile, would ease the way for Irish lawmakers to pass legislation allowing abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and in cases that could endanger the mother's life. It's the life of an unborn baby.

"I took it really personally, this vote, and said I'm going to come out today and vote for what I believe in".

The exit poll showed "an overwhelming desire for change that nobody has foreseen", wrote Irish Times deputy political editor Fiach Kelly.

Figures from different constituencies are expected from 1100 GMT, with a final result to be announced later in the day at the main counting centre in Dublin Castle.

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Videos shared on social media showed scores of voters arriving home at Irish airports from overseas.

Ireland does not give its expatriates absentee ballots or the option to vote at embassies.

As with the gay marriage referendum, those using the #hometovote hashtag on Twitter appeared overwhelmingly to back change. Many posted photos of themselves wearing sweatshirts bearing the "Repeal" slogan.

"The No camp believes they are defending the right of the unborn child, the Yes camp believe they are defending the right of a woman to make often a very hard decision".

"This is a once in a lifetime generation chance to lift the culture of shame that surrounds this issue so it was really important to me to be part of that".

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