Ireland has voted by a landslide to reform its tough abortion laws, referendum exit polls indicate.
According to the Irish Times projection, 68 per cent voted Yes to scrapping the country’s de facto ban on abortion, while RTE television projected support would reach nearly 70 per cent.
Voters were asked whether to scrap the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which puts the life of a mother and her baby on equal footing. The amendment was introduced via a referendum in 1983.
The current regime forces thousand of women to travel to England for terminations, which the pro-choice Yes campaign says is inhumane and causes needless suffering in an already traumatic situation.
"It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow," Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who was in favour of change, said on Twitter.
Thank you to everyone who voted today. Democracy in action. It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow…. #Together4Yes
— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) May 25, 2018
Polls previously suggested that the Yes camp had a comfortable majority, but in the wake of the Brexit vote and the surprise victory of Donald Trump, the result seemed close to call.
The Irish Times exit poll suggested that women voted by 70 per cent in favour of the proposal and 30 per cent against. Support among men was 65 per cent pro-choice and 35 per cent anti-abortion.
People over 65, however, voted mostly against change.
Emotions run high as bitter divides are laid bare in Ireland's abortion referendum
Among the youngest voters, 18-24 year-olds, the poll found 87 per cent had voted to allow abortion, according to the poll.
Nearly 3.5 million voters were asked whether they wanted to overturn the ban after an emotional and divisive campaign.
Yes campaign: It’s time for more compassionate law
Ireland has some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe, banning the procedure in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities. Those who choose to have an illegal abortion in Ireland risk up to 14 years in prison.
But the pro-life No campaign says the alternative proposed by the government goes too far, as it would allow unrestricted access to abortion for up to 12 weeks.
Marian Keyes, the author, was among the first Irish celebrities to react to the exit polls.
Oh my god Lads! Exit poll shows 68% voted YES! Can exit polls be trusted? If so, THIS IS GREAT
THANK YOU, EVERYONE!!! https://t.co/1A4vSGxmVh
— Marian KeYES (@MarianKeyes) May 25, 2018
Graham Lineham, creator of Father Ted, tweeted a meme of his sitcom as he celebrated.
— Graham YES Linehan (@Glinner) May 25, 2018
Stephen McGann, star of Call The Midwife, revealed he was brought to tears by the exit poll.
Tearing up in work at reports of the exit poll. Those silent legions of poor, scared, lonely women. All of that coldness and shame. Please let it end now with a single, strong, healing heart. x
— Stephen McGann (@StephenMcGann) May 25, 2018
No campaign: Proposed replacement is too extreme
Meanwhile, Cora Sherlock, a prominent No campaigner, 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. Let’s go into tomorrow with this in mind. #8thref"
Speaking to the Telegraph, No campaign chief John McGuirk said it was essential that Ireland protected the eighth amendment or it would put the lives of countless unborn children at risk.
“If you believe a child has rights before it is born then this referendum would take away those rights," Mr McGuirk said.
Ireland abortion referendum | Read more
It came as GPs supporting the No side claimed that asking doctors to carry out abortions without a reason being offered cannot be described as healthcare.
General practitioners opposed to the repeal of the eighth amendment said the proposals to liberalise Ireland’s termination laws would amount to "abortion on demand".
More than 120 GPs put their names to the open letter, expressing "serious concerns" about health minister Simon Harris’s plan.
Abortion laws around the world
Dr Brendan Crowley, one of the signatories, said the doctors were "not expressing a position on abortion one way or the other".
"However, we are united in the view that the Government’s proposals would open the door to abortion on demand in a similar manner to that prevailing in Britain," he said.
"In circumstances where the draft abortion law specifies that the role of the GP will be ‘carrying out the termination of pregnancy’ at the request of the patient, without the need for any reason to be given by the patient, there is no way such a proposal could be described as ‘healthcare’."
‘Hope’ for Northern Ireland
The exit poll results also spurred hope for Northern Ireland, which could soon become the only part of Britain and Ireland where terminations are all but outlawed.
The UK Government’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt was among those referencing the situation in Belfast as she pointed to the historic events in Dublin.
Based on the exit poll, a historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland. That hope must be met. #HomeToVote stories are a powerful and moving testimony as to why this had to happen and that understanding & empathy exists between generations. #trustwomen
— Penny Mordaunt MP (@PennyMordaunt) May 25, 2018
Reacting to the polls, former shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Labour’s Owen Smith, tweeted: "Wonderful news, if true. And a powerful message to Northern Ireland. We need change across the whole island of Ireland."
Leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party Naomi Long said: "Eyes will now turn to us: yet again a place apart. Behind GB. Behind Ireland."
Thousands return home to vote
Thousands of Irish voters have flown home from as far away as America, Vietnam and Kenya to have their say in the referendum.
Ciaran Gaffney, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, spotted four of his countrymen on a plane home to vote.
He tweeted: "Was actually so humbled and relieved to meet four other Irish people on the flight from Buenos Aires to London, all of them flying onwards to Dublin today or tomorrow to #voteyes."
So I forgot my repeal jumper when I first started my travels in January and now my mam and dad are after showing up at Dublin airport with the jumper in hand and I just 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭 #HomeToVote #Together4Yes #repealthe8th #VietnamToIreland pic.twitter.com/lJ7yGvg5YO
— the cute hoor (@HoorayForNiamh) May 23, 2018
Mary Galvin, 73, from Wexford, cut her holiday to Italy short by a day to be home for the referendum to vote No.
She said: "I’ve been a nurse all my life – the hard cases, there are many hard cases, like a lady who had been raped, and you help deal with that and the aftermath of that, with support."
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