Dublin, Ireland: The Republic of Ireland has voted to legalize abortion in a ‘Yes’ victory, exit polls show. One exit poll put the Yes vote at 68 per cent to 32 per cent while another exit poll put those in favour of legalizing abortion at 69 per cent, compared with 31 per cent against.
The referendum comes three years after Ireland backed legalising same-s** marriage by a landslide – a seismic change for the once devout country. Ireland has traditionally been one of the most religious countries in Europe. However, the Roman Catholic Church’s influence has waned in recent years following a series of child s** abuse scandals.
One exit poll, conducted for The Irish Time, said ‘Yes’ voters outnumbered their ‘No’ counterparts 68 per cent to 32 per cent.
A second poll, the RTE/Behaviour and Attitudes exit poll, said voters in favour of scrapping a 1983 law prohibiting abortion numbered 69 per cent to 31 per cent in favour of keeping it.
The Irish Time poll was carried out by pollsters Ipsos/MRBI, who questioned more than 4,500 voters in 160 polling places across Ireland. The poll’s margin of error was estimated at 1.5 per cent.
More than 3.2 million people were registered to vote in the referendum, which followed repeated calls by the United Nations to bring Irish law into line with international human rights standards.
“Thank you to everyone who voted today. Democracy in action. It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who backed the reform, wrote. Varadkar called the vote a once-in-a-generation chance and voters responded with state media reporting that turnout could be one of the highest for a referendum, potentially topping the 61 percent who backed gay marriage by a large margin.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan called it “another big step out of our dark past.”
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said an “emotional, historic day” lay ahead.
No social issue has divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant, Savita Halappanavar, after she was refused a termination.
The now-controversial Eighth Amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983.
It “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right” – meaning the life of the woman and the unborn are seen as equal.
Since 2013, terminations have only been allowed in Ireland when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide.
Supporters of a “yes” vote said the Eighth Amendment has stopped medical teams from carrying out terminations even when the mothers’ lives are endangered.
The maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.
In 2017, the Citizens’ Assembly, a body set up advise the Irish government on constitutional change, voted to replace or amend the part of Ireland’s Constitution which strictly limits the availability of abortion.
So the Irish people were asked if they wanted to remove the Eighth Amendment and allow politicians to set the country’s abortion laws in the future.
The wording on the ballot paper was: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.
The ballot paper did not mention the Eighth Amendment or abortion, instead asking: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?”
Those who wanted to retain the Eighth Amendment voted No, while those who wanted to replace it voted Yes.
If a majority has voted yes – as appears to be the case – then the Irish government’s recommendation is that women will be able to access a termination within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy.
However, beyond 12 weeks, abortions would only be permitted where there is a risk to a woman’s life or of serious harm to the physical or mental health of a woman, up until the 24th week of pregnancy.
Terminations would also be permitted in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
The official result is expected on Saturday evening.