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Ireland’s ‘Save the 8th’ anti-abortion campaign concedes defeat

Ireland’s anti-abortion campaign leaders have today conceded defeat in Friday’s historic referendum after polls predicted a landslide win for the Yes movement.

Voters went to the ballots yesterday to decide whether the Eight Amendment should be repealed and allow looser regulations around abortions.  

And this morning Save the Eighth spokesman John McGuirk said it was clear the electorate had ‘come down on the other side’.  

Speaking to RTE he added: ‘There is no prospect of the (abortion rights) legislation not being passed.’  

Ireland’s anti abortion Save the Eighth campaign has this morning conceded defeat in the landmark referendum, with ‘Yes’ supporters seen in celebratory mood after counting got underway

Ballots are being totted up across Ireland but exit polls are predicting a landslide win for the repeal movement

Ballots are being totted up across Ireland but exit polls are predicting a landslide win for the repeal movement

Pictured: Votes being counted in Dublin. A Save the Eighth spokesman said there was now 'no prospect of abortion rights legislation not being passed'

Pictured: Votes being counted in Dublin. A Save the Eighth spokesman said there was now ‘no prospect of abortion rights legislation not being passed’

An exit poll by Irish broadcaster RTE predicted a Yes vote of 69.4 per cent in Ireland's abortion referendum, while nn Ipsos/MRBI poll expected a similar 68 per cent result

An exit poll by Irish broadcaster RTE predicted a Yes vote of 69.4 per cent in Ireland’s abortion referendum, while nn Ipsos/MRBI poll expected a similar 68 per cent result

Yes vote supporters celebrate the exit polls meaning their side will likely prevail in the ballot

Yes vote supporters celebrate the exit polls meaning their side will likely prevail in the ballot

Two Yes voters wearing 'repeal' shirts toast their likely victory following the exit polls

Two Yes voters wearing ‘repeal’ shirts toast their likely victory following the exit polls

An Ipsos/MRBI poll conducted for the Irish Times expects 68 per cent for the Yes camp after weeks of campaigning led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Seventy per cent of women voted yes along with 65 per cent of men, and all aged groups under 65 were in favour of the ballot.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a former doctor who led the Yes campaign, welcomed the exit poll with the expectation it would be confirmed when ballots were counted.

‘Thank you to everyone who voted today. Democracy in action. It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow…’ he wrote on Twitter.

A massive 87 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 said they voted Yes, with changing demographics expected to have a significant pull on the result.

Yes heartland Dublin was predicted to vote 77 per cent in favour and rural Ireland, where the most resistance was expected, had a 60 per cent prediction.

Even Connacht-Ulster on Ireland’s west coast, which was expected to have the most No votes, has 59 per cent say they cast their ballots to repeal. 

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan likened the likely election result to a famous scene on his beloved TV show in a tweet following the poll

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan likened the likely election result to a famous scene on his beloved TV show in a tweet following the poll

Ireland is set to vote in favour of looser abortion laws with exit polls predicting a 68 per cent Yes vote in Friday's referendum 

Ireland is set to vote in favour of looser abortion laws with exit polls predicting a 68 per cent Yes vote in Friday’s referendum 

An Ipsos/MRBI conducted for the Irish Times expects a stunning landslide for the Yes camp after weeks of campaigning 

An Ipsos/MRBI conducted for the Irish Times expects a stunning landslide for the Yes camp after weeks of campaigning 

The exit poll asked 4,000 people at 160 of the about 6,500 polling places how they voted and has a margin of error of about 1.5 per cent.

Another poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE made a similar prediction of 69.4 per cent Yes, with 65.9 per cent of men said they were in favour along with 72.1 per cent of women.

The poll conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes asked 3,800 voters at 175 polling stations and had a 1.6 per cent margin of error.

Polls closed at 10pm and ballot counting will begin at 9am on Saturday with an official result expected later that day.

Yes voters took to the streets and pubs of Ireland after the exit polls were announced, elated that their side seemed assured of victory.

Celebrations will likely be far bigger on Saturday when the results are officially announced after counting finishes. 

Jubilant Yes supporters celebrate likely victory after a long day of campaigning at polling booths

Jubilant Yes supporters celebrate likely victory after a long day of campaigning at polling booths

Thumbs up for victory from these three Yes supporters who hit the pubs to celebrate

Thumbs up for victory from these three Yes supporters who hit the pubs to celebrate

Turnout could be more than 70 per cent as more than 100,000 new voters registered ahead of the poll and thousands of expats bordered planes from around the world.

It was tracking higher than both the 2015 same sex marriage referendum, which got 60.5 per cent, and the 65 per cent who voted in the 2016 general election.

If the Yes camp win the government intends to overhaul Ireland’s abortion laws by the end of the year, bringing them in line with the rest of Europe. 

Access to abortions would be unrestricted until 12 weeks of pregnancy, and from 12 to 24 weeks if there was a risk to the mother’s life or a serious risk to her health.

None would be allowed after 24 weeks, regardless of the circumstances, which is not the case in many other countries with relaxed abortion laws. 

Pro-choice campaigners now turn their attention to Northern Ireland which, despite being part of Britain, still considers abortion a crime.

Some said women north of the border would soon be able to board trains to Dublin or Dundalk to get the procedure, once the government changed the laws. 

The highly contentious campaign has divided the nation

The vote has pitted young against old, town against country and church against state

The highly contentious campaign has divided the nation, pitting young against old, town against country and church against state

Irish cast their votes to decide whether to repeal the constitution's Eighth Amendment that outlaws almost all abortions

Irish cast their votes to decide whether to repeal the constitution’s Eighth Amendment that outlaws almost all abortions

Former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Labour’s Owen Smith said the Irish exit polls showed change was also needed in his country.

‘Wonderful news, if true. And a powerful message to Northern Ireland. We need change across the whole island of Ireland,’ he tweeted.

Leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party Naomi Long said: ‘Eyes will now turn to us: yet again a place apart. Behind GB. Behind Ireland.’

Abortions are only legal in Northern Ireland if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.

Political leaders south of the border were at the forefront of efforts to liberalise the law during the referendum campaign.

However, a majority of politicians in Northern Ireland do not favour the radical law changes now proposed in their neighbouring jurisdiction.

Though there has been intense debate over whether terminations should be allowed in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and rape, there remains significant opposition at Stormont to unrestricted abortion access.

But campaigners for the extension of Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act insist those politicians are out tune with wider public opinion in Northern Ireland.

Part of the high turnout is due to scores of largely young, largely Yes voters returning to Ireland from as far afield as South America, Bangkok and Australia to vote 

Part of the high turnout is due to scores of largely young, largely Yes voters returning to Ireland from as far afield as South America, Bangkok and Australia to vote 

In airport departure lounges and the arrivals hall in Dublin, ex-pats wearing Repeal jumpers and t-shirts and with 'yes' buttons affixed to their chests, hugged, celebrated, took stock of the moment, then headed to the polls 

In airport departure lounges and the arrivals hall in Dublin, ex-pats wearing Repeal jumpers and t-shirts and with ‘yes’ buttons affixed to their chests, hugged, celebrated, took stock of the moment, then headed to the polls 

The issue is also not one easily divided along traditional orange and green lines, as there are socially conservative unionists and nationalists who are equally committed to preserving the lives of the unborn. 

Irish cast their votes to decide whether to repeal the constitution’s Eighth Amendment that outlaws almost all abortions. 

The amendment, written after a previous referendum on the issue in 1983, considers the life of the mother and unborn child to be equal.

As the law stands, Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion systems in Europe with women barred from the procedure even in cases of rape.

Abortions are only allowed if the mother’s life is in danger. Women and doctors found breaking the law face up to 14 years in jail. 

Irish cast their votes to decide whether to repeal the constitution’s Eighth Amendment that outlaws almost all abortions. 

The amendment, written after a previous referendum on the issue in 1983, considers the life of the mother and unborn child to be equal.

As the law stands, Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion systems in Europe with women barred from the procedure even in cases of rape.

Abortions are only allowed if the mother’s life is in danger. Women and doctors found breaking the law face up to 14 years in jail. 

A mother arrives early to vote at a polling station in Dublin

A mother arrives early to vote at a polling station in Dublin

Flowers are left at the foot of a new mural of Savita Halappanava put up on the day of the Abortion Referendum on liberalising abortion laws in Dublin

Flowers are left at the foot of a new mural of Savita Halappanava put up on the day of the Abortion Referendum on liberalising abortion laws in Dublin

‘Thank you to everybody who voted today – democracy can be so powerful on days like today,’ Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney tweeted.

‘Looks like a stunning result that will bring about a fundamental change for the better. Proud to be Irish tonight.’

Senator Catherine Noone, chairwoman of an Oireachtas committee which recommended the abortion law changes, tweeted: ‘I’m feeling very emotional tonight – we are a great, compassionate people. So proud of us!’

UK Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt said it was a ‘historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland’. 

‘That hope must be met. #HomeToVote stories are a powerful and moving testimony as to why this had to happen and that understanding & empathy exists between generations,’ she tweeted. 

The leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, Naomi Long, said it appeared to be an ‘incredible result for #together4yes #repealthe8th’.

‘Eyes will now turn to us: yet again a place apart. Behind GB. Behind Ireland,’ she tweeted.

The highly contentious campaign has divided the nation, pitting young against old, town against country and church against state.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar smiled broadly as he voted in St Thomas' school in Laurel Lodge, Castleknock, confident of victory in the abortion referendum 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar smiled broadly as he voted in St Thomas’ school in Laurel Lodge, Castleknock, confident of victory in the abortion referendum 

Speaking to reporters afterward, he said he was 'quietly confident' of a victory, adding that high turnouts being reported across the country would help the Yes camp

Speaking to reporters afterward, he said he was ‘quietly confident’ of a victory, adding that high turnouts being reported across the country would help the Yes camp

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were among those casting their vote in Dublin on Friday morning

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were among those casting their vote in Dublin on Friday morning

Ireland’s two biggest political parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have allowed their MPs a free vote on the issue, opening up rifts between members. 

Part of the high turnout is due to scores of largely young, largely Yes voters returning to Ireland from as far afield as South America, Bangkok and Australia to vote.

In airport departure lounges and the arrivals hall in Dublin, ex-pats wearing Repeal jumpers and t-shirts and with ‘yes’ buttons affixed to their chests, hugged, celebrated, took stock of the moment, then headed to the polls.  

Mr Varadkar smiled broadly as he voted in St Thomas’ school in Laurel Lodge, Castleknock, confident of victory in the abortion referendum.

Mr Varadkar wore a jacket and open neck shirt as he cast his ballot in the heart of his Dublin West constituency at around 11.15am.

‘I always get a little buzz from voting, it just feels like it is democracy in action,’ he said after emerging from the polling station at where morning polling was described as steady.

Ireland referendum Q&A 

– What is the Eighth Amendment?

It is a clause in the constitution which was written after a previous referendum on the issue in 1983 recognised the right to life of the unborn child.

It protects the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn and effectively prohibits abortion in most cases.

Among its supporters are the Catholic church, which remains a strong presence in Ireland, though diminished from its heyday. Young people are among the most enthusiastic proponents of repeal.

– What effect has it had?

In 1992, women were officially given the right to travel abroad, mostly to the UK, to obtain terminations. Pro-repeal campaigners said almost 170,000 have done so.

The Irish Government’s deputy premier, Tanaiste Simon Coveney, has argued that effectively left Britain deciding the law for Irish women around the procedure and it was time to take back control in Ireland.

– What about the women who stay in Ireland?

The campaign to liberalise abortion gathered momentum after an Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died in hospital in Galway aged 31 when she was refused an abortion during a miscarriage.

Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said she repeatedly asked for a termination but was refused because there was a foetal heartbeat.

Health service reviewers later identified failings in her care.

– Did anything change?

In 2013, legislation was amended to allow terminations under certain tightly restricted circumstances – the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

When doctors felt a woman’s life was at risk due to complications from the pregnancy, or from suicide, they were permitted to carry out an abortion.

It followed a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that terminations were permitted where the mother’s life was at risk.

That regime has prompted uncertainty, proponents of repeal said, with the medical profession facing possible prosecution and up to 14 years’ imprisonment if they wrongfully carry out an abortion.

– Was that concession enough for those seeking liberalisation?

Not according to the women who were still travelling to the UK in their droves for procedures.

Among them were Amanda Mellet and her husband James, who took their case to the UN’s Human Rights Committee.

The Committee called for reform to give women greater rights and said the ban on abortion caused cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In 2016, for the first time in its history, the Irish State compensated a woman, Mrs Mellet, for the trauma caused by forcing her to travel to Britain for an abortion.

– What approach did the Government adopt?

It established a public advisory body, a Citizen’s Assembly, which recommended introduction of unrestricted access to abortion.

Because of the Eighth Amendment, a public poll was needed before new laws could be passed, and earlier this year the country’s Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, set the date for the abortion referendum as Friday May 25.

The Government has published draft legislation to be introduced if the amendment is repealed which would allow relatively free abortions, subject to consultation with a medical professional and after a short waiting period, up to 12 weeks after gestation and up to 24 weeks with restrictions.

If, after 12 weeks, a woman’s life is threatened or there could be serious harm to her health two doctors will consider whether to allow the procedure.

Terminations will not be carried out after the foetus becomes viable, following 24 weeks of pregnancy

Despite the enthusiasm Mr Varadkar, said he was ‘quietly confident’ but warned supporters on Thursday night not to take anything for granted.

‘There’s been good turnout across the country so far and I’m hoping for a yes vote,’ Mr Varadkar said. A high turnout would be to the advantage of the Yes campaign, he predicted.

The Yes camp is concerned that a ‘silent No vote’ could swing the result, as happened with Brexit and Trump.   

Leader of the main opposition party, Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin, voted to repeal in his constituency in Cork while Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald also cast a Yes vote in Dublin.

However, her Sinn Fein party colleague and vocal anti-abortion campaigner Peadar Toibin called on Irish people to vote No to ‘abortion on demand’.

‘The irony that the referendum on abortion is being held on International Missing Children’s Day will not be lost on many Irish people,’ he tweeted.

Yes voters argue that Ireland's system has not stopped abortion happening, with an estimated 3,000 women going to the UK for a procedure each year

Yes voters argue that Ireland’s system has not stopped abortion happening, with an estimated 3,000 women going to the UK for a procedure each year

A Yes vote would mark another historic milestone for deeply Catholic Ireland which legalised contraception in 1979, divorce in 1995 and same-sex marriage in 2015

A Yes vote would mark another historic milestone for deeply Catholic Ireland which legalised contraception in 1979, divorce in 1995 and same-sex marriage in 2015

Ireland held a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the country’s constitution on May 25

Ireland held a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the country’s constitution on May 25

A pair of nuns prepare to cast their votes in the referendum. The Catholic Church has thrown its weight behind the No campaign

A pair of nuns prepare to cast their votes in the referendum. The Catholic Church has thrown its weight behind the No campaign

‘Those on the margins of society suffer most from abortion. Vote No to Abortion on Demand.’

Catherine Murphy, leader of the minority left wing party Social Democrats who eagerly supported the Yes campaign, praised the exit poll results.

‘The exit poll results are strongly indicating that voters have taken on board the clear message that the Eighth Amendment harms women and must be removed from our Constitution, she said.

‘While we await the counting of votes tomorrow, we are very encouraged by these early signals showing that Irish people have understood the need to vote Yes so that we can provide women with the healthcare they need in a compassionate, caring and medically safe system.’

Garda Alan Gallagher carries a polling box to a waiting helicopter on the island of Inishbofin, where just a few dozen people voted on Thursday

Garda Alan Gallagher carries a polling box to a waiting helicopter on the island of Inishbofin, where just a few dozen people voted on Thursday

While those in mainland Ireland will vote on Friday, around 2,000 people on the Donegal, Galway West and Mayo islands voted on Thursday (pictured, Gola Island)

While those in mainland Ireland will vote on Friday, around 2,000 people on the Donegal, Galway West and Mayo islands voted on Thursday (pictured, Gola Island)

A Yes vote would mark another historic milestone for deeply Catholic Ireland which legalised contraception in 1979, divorce in 1995 and same-sex marriage in 2015.

Yes campaigners say the current system fails mothers whose children develop fatal foetal abnormalities in the womb, meaning there is no chance they will survive birth. 

At the moment, such women are legally obligated to carry the baby to term and have a still birth.

They also argue that Ireland’s system has not stopped abortion happening, with an estimated 3,000 women going to the UK for a procedure each year.

An unknown number also rely upon abortion drugs purchased illegally over the internet to carry out the procedure at home, risking their health and jail time.  

Timeline: Key events surrounding Ireland’s abortion laws 

A referendum on Friday will decide whether to overhaul Ireland’s strict abortion laws. Here is a timeline of the key events.

1861: Abortion is banned in Ireland under the Offences Against the Person Act.

1967: A private member’s bill brought by David Steel MP led to the UK’s Abortion Act 1967, which is still the law governing abortions in England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland.

Many other countries also liberalised rules governing the procedure.

1983: A referendum in Ireland led to the Eighth Amendment to the constitution recognising the right to life of the unborn child.

It ‘acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right’.

1986: The High Court ruled that the availability to women in Ireland of information on abortion outside Ireland breached the constitution as it undermined the child’s right to life.

1992: A teenage rape victim in Ireland who was suffering from suicidal thoughts was prevented by the courts from terminating her pregnancy in England.

It was dubbed the X Case and was the subject of a ruling from Ireland’s highest court, the Supreme Court, which overturned the decision.

Judges said a realistic threat of suicide constituted grounds for an abortion.

Two referendums were held and as a result the constitution was amended to ensure Irish women had the freedom to travel to other countries to seek terminations.

Medical practitioners still faced uncertainty over when the procedure could be carried out in Ireland.

2002: Another referendum was held to decide if the threat of suicide as a ground for legal abortion should be removed. It was rejected.

2010: The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had not provided clarity on the availability of abortion in cases where a mother’s life was at risk.

2012: Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar died in a hospital in Galway after being denied an abortion during a miscarriage.

Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claimed she requested a termination but was refused because the baby’s heart was still beating.

A midwife manager at Galway University Hospital has confirmed that she told Mrs Halappanavar a termination could not be carried out because Ireland was a ‘Catholic country’.

2013: Abortion law was amended to allow terminations under certain strictly-defined circumstances – the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

For the first time, processes were set out to establish the circumstances in which there was a real and substantial risk to the life, not the health, of a woman, and where the only treatment that would avert that risk was an abortion.

It also introduced a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment for having or assisting in an unlawful abortion.

The law meant the state had finally legislated on the 1992 Supreme Court X Case.

2015: The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern at Ireland’s ‘highly restrictive’ legislation on abortion and called for another referendum.

2016: The UN found that Amanda Mellet, who had been carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality, had been subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment due to Ireland’s abortion prohibition.

She had to travel abroad for the procedure and was forced to leave the remains of her baby behind before they were eventually delivered by courier.

The UN called for the strict prohibition in Ireland to be reversed.

The Irish Government outlined terms of reference for a Citizens’ Assembly to begin examining the Eighth Amendment of the constitution and advise the Government.

2017: The Assembly recommended that unrestricted access to abortion during early pregnancy be introduced.

The Government promised to hold a referendum in 2018 on whether to change the law.

2018: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy set the poll date as May 25.

Voters were to be asked if they wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which would give the Government freedom to legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.

The Government has published proposals for a new law if the referendum is passed giving relatively unrestricted access to abortion during the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a period of reflection.

If, after 12 weeks, a woman’s life is threatened or there could be serious harm to her health, two doctors will consider whether to allow the procedure.

Terminations will not be carried out after the foetus becomes viable, following 24 weeks of pregnancy.



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