Dublin, Ireland’s Indian-origin Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Saturday hailed his country’s “quiet revolution” as early results in the country’s historic abortion referendum pointed to a “resounding” vote for overturning the ban.
“The people have spoken. They have said we need a modern Constitution for a modern country,” Varadkar said, after exit polls suggested a landslide vote in favour of reforming the law.
One exit poll released by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE after polling stations closed on Friday predicted that 69.4 per cent voted in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and 30.6 per cent “No”.
Another by the Irish Times, 68 per cent voted in favour of ditching the prohibition.
A campaign to liberalise abortion gathered momentum in 2012 after 31-year-old Indian woman Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway hospital after she was refused an abortion during a miscarriage. For many, Halappanavar became the symbolic image to strive for change.
Varadkar, who campaigned in favour of liberalisation, said: “What we’ve seen is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland over the past 20 years.”
Irish voters “trust and respect women to make the right choices and decisions about their own health care”, he added.
The Friday vote saw citizens effectively opt to either retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment of the country’s Constitution, which prohibits terminations unless a mother’s life is in danger.
A vote in favour of repeal paves the way for Irish Parliament to legislate for change which would see the introduction of a much more liberal regime. Varadkar said he hoped to have a new abortion law enacted by the end of 2018.
Counting began at 9.00 a.m and the confirmed result was expected by Saturday evening.
Following the exit polls, Ireland’s pro-life “Save The 8th” campaign conceded defeat. The group said: “What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions… However, a wrong does not become right simply because a majority support it.”
However, the “Together For Yes” organisation said: “This is a vote for dignity and decency.”
“If exit polls are reflected in the official vote count later today, this will be a moment of profound change in Ireland’s social history, a moment when the nation collectively stood up for women and for their healthcare, and voted for constitutional change,” it said.
An electorate of more than 3.2 million were asked to cast their ballots, including thousands of Irish people living overseas who had made the journey home to vote. The Eighth Amendment was introduced via a referendum in 1983.
High turnout was seen across 6,500 polling stations in 40 constituencies across the republic. If the final turnout surpasses 60.52 per cent, it will be higher than Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage, which passed in 2015. Turnout was over 70 per cent in some areas, RTE said.