News & Politics

Ireland Votes to Liberalize Abortion Law

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Voters in Ireland went to the polls on Friday to decide whether to repeal the amendment to the Constitution that restricts abortion. Exit polls show that by a 2-1 count, the pro-abortion forces were successful.


“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

After official results began to be announced on Saturday, politicians on both sides agreed that the referendum had passed by a large margin. Final results were due later on Saturday.

(Abortion policies worldwide:

“The public have spoken. The result appears to be resounding … in favor of repealing the 8th Amendment” constitutional ban on abortion, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned for repeal, told journalists in Dublin.

“What we see is the culmination of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in Ireland over the last couple of decades,” said Varadkar, who became the country’s first openly gay prime minister last year.

If confirmed, the outcome will be the latest milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalized divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

“For him (his son), it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto. It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher with his son Ruarai, who was born 14 weeks premature in November.

A spokesman for an anti-abortion umbrella group Save The 8th John McGuirk conceded there was “no prospect” the country’s abortion ban, imposed in a 1983 referendum, would be retained.

“What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions,” Save The 8th said. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

For pro-life advocates around the world, today is a sad day. In the end, it was a combination of factors including sex abuse scandals among the Catholic clergy, the arrival of immigrants, and a growing secularization following the establishment of the European Union.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI exit poll suggested that voters backed change by 68 percent to 32 percent and indicated majorities in all age groups under 65 voted for change, including almost nine in every 10 voters under the age of 24.

“It’s possible even that we could carry every constituency in the country; men and women; almost every age group and every social class,” Varadkar said. “And that indicates to me that we are a country that is not divided.”

Save The 8th spokesman McGuirk appealed for tolerance and respect from “those who find themselves in the majority now”.

The vote to repeal the ban was far higher than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

For those who believe abortion is murder, the argument rings hollow. But even 46 years after Roe v. Wade, a significant percentage of Americans — 37 percent — believe abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother or illegal in all cases.

Ireland may find its pro-life minority as politically active and consequential as America’s anti-abortion movement.