The Irish went to the polls Friday to vote in a historic referendum over abortion rights.
On Saturday morning, with all ballots counted and turnout at a historic high, election officials reported that 66.4 percent voted to overturn Ireland’s abortion ban and 33.6 percent opposed the measure.
“What we have seen today is a culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years,” said Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
The Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, passed in 1983, enshrined an “equal right to life” for mothers and “the unborn” and outlawed almost all abortions — even in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality or risk to maternal health.
Ireland’s political leadership has promised that Parliament will quickly pass a new law guaranteeing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, and beyond that in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities or serious risks to a mother’s health. That would bring Ireland’s access to abortion more in line with the other 27 members of the European Union.
Varadkar said the new legislation would be enacted by the end of the year. “The people knew what we had in mind, and I don’t think it would be right to depart from that at all,” he said.
Simon Harris, Ireland’s Minister of Health, said a bill would be written this summer. “The people of Ireland have told us to get on with it,” he said.
Harris said he was as surprised as everyone with the high turnout and outsized vote for repeal. “If you can find anybody today who said they were expecting this majority, I’d love to meet them. I don’t think anybody was expecting this margin,” he said.
The vote count on Saturday mirrored the results of two respected exit polls, which suggested a decisive win for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Results from two exits polls released after voting ended at 10 p.m. on Friday suggested a decisive win for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution.
Reports from polling stations around the country indicated high turnout. About 3.3 million Irish have registered to vote, and many appeared to be returning from abroad to cast ballots.
On social media, the hashtag #HomeToVote was popular. At Dublin Airport, waves of women arrived — many of them wearing “repeal” T-shirts and with “yes!” stickers on their luggage.
“Ireland has treated its daughters terribly,” said Marylou Doherty, 66, a teacher who has been an active antiabortion activist since the 1983 campaign.
Campaigns to lift the abortion ban have emphasized that it is a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body — and that Ireland should be a compassionate society, not one that forces pregnant women to travel to another country to receive a procedure that should be available at home.
Kevin Keane, 23, is the president of the Students’ Union at Trinity College Dublin. He’s been campaigning hard for repeal — a position he says reflects a dynamic, young, European outlook and a turning-away from the scandal-ridden Catholic Church.
“So many people in Ireland have rejected religion. We were raised with it; we went to Catholic schools, and growing up with that rhetoric made people hate it,” Keane said.
Three years ago, Ireland became the first country in the world to back same-sex marriage in a popular vote, confirming a profound shift in Ireland’s social attitudes.
The “No” campaigns stressed the “human rights” of the fetus. Some Irish activists have called abortion “murder,” but many campaigners have tried a softer tone, saying Ireland should “love both” the pregnant woman and her unborn baby.
Where are the fathers and family to help a young mother cope with a crisis pregnancy? she asked.
“We know the majority of abortions are about their lifestyle,” Doherty said. “It just doesn’t suit them to have a baby at this time.”
Doherty maintained that making abortion more difficult to obtain forced women to think more about their decisions and perhaps to seek help or put a baby up for adoption.