Update at 2:35 p.m.: The exit polls were almost right on the mark. Final results showed 66.4 percent of voters in Ireland came out in favor of legalizing abortion stunning a nation that was predicting a close vote in a country where the Catholic church has long had a very powerful influence. With a turnout of 64.13 percent, 1,429,981 people voted to amend the country’s constitution to legalize abortion while 723,632 voted against the measure.
Original post: It’s not quite official but all signs are pointing to a landslide victory for abortion-rights campaigners in Ireland as it looks like the country’s voters made history by overwhelmingly casting their ballots to end one of the world’s most restrictive abortion bans. And, according to the exit polls at least, it wasn’t even close. One exit poll by the Irish Times showed 68 percent of respondents saying they voted to repeal the 1983 constitutional amendment that requires the mother and a fetus to be treated as equals under the law. Another exit poll by broadcaster RTE showed similar results, with 69 percent voting in favor of repealing the Eight Amendment.
Initial tallies of the Friday referendum appear to closely follow the exit polls, suggesting there was not much suspense Saturday as the votes were counted. Anti-abortion groups all but admitted defeat before the official votes were tallied. One group that was one of the main campaigners against the repeal called the results a “tragedy of historic proportions.” But John McGuirk, spokesman for the Save the 8th group emphasized to the Associated Press that even if they disagree with the result they will accept it. Still, McGuirk vowed that the anti-abortion campaigners would continue to protest “if and when abortion clinics are opened in Ireland.”
Abortion-rights campaigners were also celebrating before the full results came in. “This is a monumental day for women in Ireland,” said Orla O’Connor, co-director of the Together for Yes group. “This is about women taking their rightful place in Irish society, finally.” Exit polls suggest that O’Connor is right that the vote put into evidence just how much attitudes toward women have changed in Ireland. The RTE poll shows no split between urban and rural voters while men and women voted pretty much along the same lines. The only age group that voted in favor of maintaining the ban were those over 65. Plus the same poll also suggests these views were held before politicians gave citizens a chance to express themselves as 82 percent said the referendum campaign had not changed their mind on how they would vote.
“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 people have spoken. They have said we need a modern constitution for a modern country.” A landslide vote will strengthen the government’s hand in the upcoming parliamentary debate on the issue as the country’s politicians have vowed to quickly pass a new law guaranteeing unrestricted abortions up until 12 weeks of pregnancy.