Ireland has voted in a historic referendum to repeal the eighth constitutional amendment, which denies women the right to abort pregnancies except when their lives are in danger.
Exit polls suggest the ‘Yes’ campaign to repeal the amendment is ahead with counting due to start Saturday morning and results expected to be announced later in the afternoon.
In 1983 ‘destruction of unborn life’ became punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In the 35 years since, tweaks have been made which allow women to legally access information and to travel abroad for treatment.
However campaigns to abolish the amendment have been relentless, with increasing support following major scandals such as the ‘X case’ in 1992 and the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.
Finally in 2016 pro-choice groups gathered the momentum for a referendum in which a yes vote means “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”.
Following Ireland’s 2015 equal marriage referendum, the abortion vote has provided further evidence that the country is turning away from the Catholic Church, which historically enjoyed a firm grip upon Irish society.
Prominent figures from Irish politics and media publicly announced their intentions to vote yes, including Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.
He warned voters that, “if you vote No, nothing can change, and things will persist as they are now where women have to travel abroad to get the care that they need”.
When Friday’s vote finally arrived, voters turned out in droves. In Dublin, a record breaking 70 percent made their voices heard. Once votes were closed, exit polls for The Irish Times by Ipsos/MRBI suggested there will be a landslide victory in favour of change.
According to a poll of 4,000 voters, the yes side are predicted to win in the final count by 68 percent.
Results indicated that majorities in all age groups under 65 had voted yes, including up to 87 percent of those aged between 18 and 24.
The results of the exit poll were surprising to Maria Jones, who had anticipated the margin being “very tight”. However her prediction that “a lot of the older people will probably vote no” had been correct.
On the other hand, Robert Kennedy expected all along there’d be a yes majority. Robert believes it’s time for change, and that women deserve “the right to choose for themselves”.
Many ‘no’ voters also anticipated the yes majority. This included Maria Valerie Prado, who voted at Saint Mary’s Church on Haddington Road. Her prediction still didn’t change her vote, as she believes unborn children “deserve a chance to live”.
At the Christ the King School Hall, Sadhbh Donovan, had come along to vote yes. Her decision had solidified after reading the ‘In Her Shoes’ Facebook page, upon which Irish women described their traumatic abortion experiences, it made her question “how can anyone possibly vote no?”
Tina Larkin at Holy Spirit Senior Primary School polling station was convinced to vote yes by Repeal campaigns too. Leo Varadkar changed her mind when he called door to door in her area and made a speech that “really resonated” with her.
However Tina’s husband Billy had voted no. Billy’s Mother had given birth to him out of wedlock, which was totally scandalous in early 20th century Ireland. He believes if terminating a pregnancy had been legal, he “wouldn’t be around today”.
Ireland’s Catholic past was at the forefront of Bríd McGrath’s mind too as she cast her vote.
“I work in what was formerly a Magdalene Laundry. Unmarried pregnant women were sent here and forced to take a vow of silence. Every day I walk around the place and think of all these women and that silence. Today is a joyous scream for those voiceless women, from what i hope is the majority of Irish people”.
Others were determined not to get too excited before a final announcement. As Valerie Flynn pointed out at Saint Peter’s National School in Phibsborough.
“I know the polls are saying yes but can we really trust opinion polls these days?”