Ireland’s abortion laws look set to change as first referendum results declared

Ireland is on the cusp of history as votes are counted following an abortion referendum with exit polls suggesting it will be legalised.

Yes campaigners were celebrating in hope last night after exit polls suggested seven out of ten voters had backed reforms.

The first result of the day, from Galway East, supported those figures with a resounding 60.19% opting for Yes and 39.81% for No and that pattern continued.

This morning, Save The 8th spokesman John McGuirk, conceded that the anti-abortion campaign has lost, admitting that there was "no prospect of the legislation not being passed".

Later the group released fuller statement arguing that "wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it" calling it a "tragedy of historic proportions".

After the vote yesterday, one exit poll by national broadcaster RTE suggested around 70% of the electorate have voted to end the country’s all but blanket ban on terminations, with another, by The Irish Times, recording 68% in favour of ditching the prohibition.

The official result is not expected until later today, but last night Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a supporter of liberalisation, tweeted: "It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow."

He also hailed the country’s ‘quiet revolution’

"The people have spoken. They have said we need a modern constitution for a modern country," he said

"What we’ve seen is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland over the past 20 years."

The historic vote saw thousands of Irish citizens living overseas travelling home to exercise their democratic right on the emotive issue.

It sees citizens effectively opt to either retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment of the state’s constitution, which prohibits terminations unless a mother’s life is in danger.

The specific question people were asked was whether they wanted to see the Eighth Amendment replaced with wording in the constitution that would hand politicians the responsibility to set future laws on abortion, unhindered by constitutional strictures.

If the Yes vote is confirmed, the Irish Government intends to legislate by the end of the year to make it relatively easy for a woman to obtain the procedure in early pregnancy.

Ministers have promised to allow terminations within the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

In a post on its website, Save The 8th vowed to continue to stand against to reform and said it will oppose abortion legalisation once it is introduced.

Campaigners react to the news on social media

Although the result is not official yet, people feel it is conclusive enough to start celebrating.

Those on both sides of the debate have taken to social media to share their thoughts on the result.

Ireland referendum vote

The statement read: "The 8th amendment did not create a right to life for the unborn child – it merely acknowledged that such a right exists, has always existed, and will always exist.

"What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions.

"However, a wrong does not become right simply because a majority support it."

"We are so proud of all of those who stood with us in this campaign – our supporters, our donors, our families, and our loved ones.

"This campaign took a huge personal toll on all of us who were involved, and we have been so grateful for their support.

"The unborn child no longer has a right to life recognised by the Irish state. Shortly, legislation will be introduced that will allow babies to be killed in our country.

"We will oppose that legislation. If and when abortion clinics are opened in Ireland, because of the inability of the Government to keep their promise about a GP led service, we will oppose that as well.

"Every time an unborn child has his or her life ended in Ireland, we will oppose that, and make our voices known.

"Abortion was wrong yesterday. It remains wrong today. The constitution has changed, but the facts have not."

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, hailed the anticipated results as a "significant" day for Ireland.

Arriving at a count centre in Dublin, he said: "Today is a hugely significant day for our country.

“The people of Ireland have clearly thought about this issue at great length and for a significant period of time. Now they have answered that question and they have answered it in a resounding manner.

“They have said that they want to live in a country that treats women with compassion. Under the 8th amendment, women in crisis pregnancy have been told take the train, or take the boat, today we tell them, take our hand."

Prominent anti-abortion campaigner Cora Sherlock has expressed disappointment at the polls.

"Exit polls, if accurate, paint a very sad state of affairs tonight," she tweeted late on Friday.

"But those who voted No should take heart. Abortion on demand would deal Ireland a tragic blow but the pro-life movement will rise to any challenge it faces."

The exit polls represent a remarkable turnaround in public opinion in little over a generation.

In 1983, 67% citizens voted to insert the Eighth Amendment into the constitution.

The seismic reversal in opinion seems to have been delivered by the younger generations.

People under the age of 53 could not vote in 1983.

On Friday, those age groups seem to have backed Yes in overwhelming fashion.

Almost 90% of voters under 25 appear to have voted Yes.

Those aged 35-49 endorsed repeal by around 73%, the exit polls indicate.

The only age group to vote No was the over 65s, indicating that those who backed the amendment in 1983 largely retain their opposition to abortion – they are now just outnumbered by younger generations committed to reform.

The Behaviour & Attitudes poll for RTE surveyed 3,800 people at 175 polling stations across the country.

With a margin of error of +/- 1.6%, 69.4% voted to repeal the Eight Amendment of the constitution while 30.6% voted No.

The exit poll conducted for The Irish Times indicated a 68% to 32% Yes vote.

That poll, which has a margin of error is estimated at +/- 1.5%, saw 4,000 voters interviewed by Ipsos/MRBI as they left 160 polling stations on Friday.

As predicted, urban areas appear to have been more strongly in favour of repeal, at just over 70%.

But according to the polls, rural areas also voted Yes, with around 60 to 63% in favour.

A total of 3.3 million citizens were registered to vote in Friday’s referendum.

The Catholic Church was among influential voices calling for a No vote, arguing that the life of the unborn should be sacrosanct.

But the Yes camp, which portrayed itself as modernising and in step with international opinion, insisted repeal would demonstrate Ireland’s compassion for thousands of Irish women forced to travel to England for the procedure.

A decade after the Eighth Amendment was approved, women in Ireland were officially given the right to travel abroad, mostly to the UK, to obtain terminations. Pro-repeal campaigners say almost 170,000 have done so.

The liberalisation campaign gathered momentum in 2012 after an Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died in hospital in Galway aged 31 when she was refused an abortion during a miscarriage.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said she repeatedly asked for a termination but was refused because there was a foetal heartbeat.

In 2013, following an outcry over Mrs Halappanavar’s death, legislation was amended to allow terminations under certain tightly restricted circumstances.


hen doctors felt a woman’s life was at risk due to complications from the pregnancy, or from suicide, they were permitted to carry out an abortion.

That did not sate the demand of pro-choice advocates.

Today Savita’s vparents said they were “really, really happy” that Ireland was on course for a historic change.

From his home in india, her father Andanappa Yalagi, told the Irish Times: “I want to thank you so much. I want to say ‘Thank you’ to our brothers and sisters in Ireland for voting Yes.

“It is very important. There has been really a lot, too much struggle for the Irish ladies.”

Under pressure from the UN about alleged degrading treatment of women who travelled to England for terminations, the Irish Government began exploring the possibility of further reform, culminating in the calling of Friday’s referendum and the promise to legislate.

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