Voting closes on Ireland abortion law referendum

Irish Women Turn Out in Droves to Repeal Constitutional Ban on Abortion

Ireland has some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, with many women resorting to leaving the country in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The main group opposing the liberalisation of Ireland's abortion law conceded on Saturday that it has lost Friday's referendum by an overwhelming margin, a spokesman said.

Unsurprisingly, young people were overwhelmingly in favour of repealing the amendment, with 87 percent of voters aged 18-24 casting their ballot for reform.

"The exit poll I would say is bang on".

People arriving at polling stations on Friday in more traditional rural areas and city centres spoke about the momentousness of a morally complex decision.

"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".

Several of Ireland's most prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, have raised their voices in favour of repealing the anti-abortion law.

"I took it really personally, this vote, and said I'm going to come out today and vote for what I believe in".

Ireland, which garnered much praises after electing a gay prime minister a year ago, continues to deny women the right to abort.

"The fact that it's illegal for somebody in Ireland to seek medical treatment, having to travel outside the country and to feel that guilt, shame and isolation, it's absolutely shocking", said Belinda Nugent, 43, a community activist voting in north Dublin.

Colm O'Gorman, the head of Amnesty International in Ireland, which campaigned for the yes vote, said, while the expectations had been that Saturday's count would be close, attitude surveys it had conducted in 2015 had shown deep changes in thinking on abortion.

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The Eighth Amendment in Ireland's constitution equates the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of her fetus, hence making abortion an offence.

The Catholic Church was among influential voices calling for a No vote, arguing that the life of the unborn should be sacrosanct.

She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, "a vote to say, I don't send you away any more".

Canvassers were out on the city's streets holding up signs and wearing t-shirts with campaign slogans.

Vera Rooney voted against repeal.

A man carries a ballot box after polls closed in the Irish referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution.

The ban has led to thousands of women travelling each year to neighbouring Britain, where terminations are legal, or increasingly turning to abortion pills sold online.

People Before Profit TD BrÍd Smith said the referendum is a game changer and we will never go back to the "dark days" of denial of women's rights.

The law was tweaked in 2013 to allow terminations if the mother's life is at risk.

If a majority has voted yes - as appears to be the case - then the Irish government's recommendation is that women will be able to access a termination within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy.

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