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Ireland votes overwhelmingly to end abortion ban

Written by on 26/05/2018

Ireland has overwhelmingly voted to liberalise its abortion laws, in a referendum that surprised almost everyone by revealing a fervour for change in this formerly conservative, strictly Catholic country.
Exit polls showed that more than two-thirds of voters wanted to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, which in 1983 had enshrined in the constitution the right of life of the unborn equal to the right of the mother, effectively banning almost all abortions.

Though the final vote count was not due until late Saturday afternoon in Ireland, early tallies consistent with the polls showed little doubt it was to be a day of historic change.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said “after 35 long years, it seems that Ireland has finally turned the page on a shameful chapter of its history”.

Orla O’Connor, co-director of the Together for Yes campaign, said the vote marked a huge rejection of a past that treated women appallingly.

“This is a resounding roar from the Irish people,” she said.
The Irish Times described it as a “fundamental rejection by the entire country of what has gone before; the final casting off of old mores”.

The Save the 8th campaign said it was a “tragedy of historic proportions”.

“Abortion was wrong yesterday. It remains wrong today. The constitution has changed, but the facts have not,” they said in a statement.

They said they would continue to campaign against abortion law reform.

Love Both spokesperson Dr Ruth Cullen said it was a “very sad state of affairs” and her supporters would hold the government to its promise that repeal would only lead to abortion in very restrictive circumstances.

The government is likely to move quickly with legislation allowing terminations on request up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, and beyond that in cases of rape, incest, fatal defect or where the physical or mental health of the mother is at risk, up until the 24th week of pregnancy.

The Fianna Fáil party, which had tried to stop the referendum and most of whose MPs had backed a No vote, will not oppose a law change.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said it looked like the referendum had been “emphatically passed” and the parliament should “move efficiently to enact the will of our people”.

Fine Gael’s referendum coordinator Josepha Madigan said she expected legislation to pass before the end of the year.

Recent opinion polls had suggested right-to-life campaigners were clawing back support ahead of the vote, with warnings that Ireland was about to embrace “abortion on demand”.

But the Irish Times exit poll reported 68 per cent for Yes, and RTE’s exit poll reported 69.4 per cent for Yes with a 1.6 per cent margin of error.

The Times poll showed young voters in particular had turned out in extraordinary numbers for repeal, with 87 per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds voting Yes, and 83 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds.

Even among those aged 65 and above, 40 per cent of voters had voted for change.

A feared gender divide had not appeared: 65 per cent of men voted to repeal, just below the 70 per cent of women, the exit polls found.

And some rural areas which had been predicted to vote against change ended up swinging to the Yes camp.

But the Yes vote was, as expected, strongest in the cities. Dublin was expected to be 79 per cent for repeal, with one of its polling stations returning a 91 per cent Yes vote.

It was a sunny, warm day in Ireland on Friday as voters streamed into polling stations, exceeding turnout expectations, the Irish Times reported.

When exit polls came in on Friday night, campaigners from both sides were in tears.

There was emotion among ordinary voters too, with celebration on the streets on Saturday.

“I was torn, but I voted for my daughters,” one woman told the Times.

“We were only exporting the problem,” her husband said.


According to some estimates, ten Irish women a day travel to the UK to get abortions.

“Instead of saying take the boat, we’re now saying take our hand and we will look after you,” health minister Simon Harris said on Saturday.

An estimated three to five Irish women take illegal abortion pills at home each day – the number is rising with increasing availability on the internet – but using them is punishable by 14 years in prison, though no one has been prosecuted.

That law will also change.

Ireland’s Prime Minister, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, wore a “Yes” badge on his lapel and said during the week that a Yes vote would leave Ireland “a little bit more compassionate”.

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