Ireland referendum LIVE: Voters head to the polls to decide on historic
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Voters throughout Ireland have begun casting votes in a referendum that may lead to a loosening of the country’s strict ban on most abortions.
The referendum today will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed, which would open the way for more liberal legislation.
The amendment, in place since 1983, requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted his support for the bill before a moratorium on campaigning took effect Thursday. He urged people to vote ‘yes’ in favor of repeal.
Results are not expected until Saturday afternoon or evening.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s offshore islands.
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Celebrities and Irish politicians backing the ‘Yes’ vote have taken to social media to show their support.
Meanwhile Ciara Grealy, 21, from Dublin, said: ‘I don’t know why we should export women to another country to have something that should be done safely and legally here.
‘One of my best friends had to do it. She found out she was pregnant; the doctors said ‘our hands are tied’. She had to get a flight to Liverpool with her parents.’
She said her friend had found seeing the omnipresent referendum placards distressing.
Gavin Boyne, 20, a philosophy student wearing a pink hoodie from the Love Both pro-life movement, said he owed his life to the eighth amendment.
His mother had accidentally got pregnant and had been sent to England by her parents for a termination, before they had a change of heart.
‘My grandparents recognised that I was a unique human being with value and so they couldn’t have had me killed. If the eighth amendment wasn’t there in 1998, I wouldn’t be here today,’ he said.
Irish voters have begun arriving at polling stations throughout the country to have their say in an historic referendum that could see a complete overhaul of abortion laws.
Irish citizens must be 18 or older to vote in the referendum.
‘Yes’ backers are hoping that thousands of young Irish men and women working or studying in Europe will come back and take part if they meet the legal requirements.
The ‘No’ side is banking on a strong vote in rural areas and smaller cities to offset what is likely to be strong support for repeal in the capital, Dublin.
More than 3.1 million people are eligible to vote. Most polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. until 10 pm today, although voting has already begun on some remote islands. Results are expected Saturday.
If the ‘yes’ side prevails, it would be up to parliament to come up with new laws on abortion.
The Irish government, headed by ‘yes’ backer Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, has proposed legislation that would allow the termination of pregnancies within the first 12 weeks.
It would also allow later abortions if doctors believe there is a risk of death or serious harm to the pregnant woman.
Doctors would also be allowed to abort if the fetus is determined to have a defect that would lead to its death in the womb or shortly after birth.
These proposals are likely to provoke intense debates in parliament and it isn’t clear what law would ultimately be put in place.
Many expect the results to be close. Ireland has strong Roman Catholic roots and opposition to abortion runs deep here, but the surprising results of a 2015 referendum that legalized same-sex marriage may indicate a more liberal view.
The country has its first openly gay prime minister, who is also the first from an ethnic minority group, which may suggest a more flexible approach to social issues.
Abortion was illegal in Ireland before 1983, but the amendment wrote the ban into the country’s constitution. Women who get illegal abortions can face up to 14 years in prison.
Since a legal challenge in 1992, the law has allowed Irish women to travel to another country to obtain an abortion.
Advocates of repeal say this can be expensive and sometimes traumatic, and amounts to outsourcing the issue to Britain.
Opponents say the law simply forces women to leave their home country at considerable expense to get safe abortions elsewhere.
They also cite cases where women have been placed in danger because doctors were unsure whether they could legally carry out an abortion despite serious medical issues facing the pregnant woman.
Supporters of the eighth amendment say it has prevented Ireland from becoming an “abortion on demand” country like much of Europe.
They cite the proliferation of abortions in Britain since the procedure was legalized there in 1967 as something they are determined to prevent. Many ‘no’ posters and advertisements emphasize that a child’s heart starts to beat just weeks after conception.
A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote will decide whether Ireland repeals or keeps the controversial eighth amendment to the constitution, which in 1983 required authorities to equally defend the right to life of a mother and the right to life of a fetus, from the moment of conception.
Abortion is only permissible in very rare cases when the woman’s life is judged to be in danger.
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