Irish referendum voters overturn abortion ban by decisive margin

AFP
More than 66 percent of voters in what has been a traditionally staunchly Catholic country backed repealing the constitutional ban on terminations.
AFP
AFP

"Yes" campaigners celebrate the official result of the Irish abortion referendum at Dublin Castle in Dublin on May 26, 2018 which showed a landslide decision in favour of repealing the constitutional ban on abortions.

Ireland voted by a landslide to ditch its strict abortion laws in a landmark referendum that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said had finally lifted decades of stigma and shame.

More than 66 percent of voters in what has been a traditionally staunchly Catholic country backed repealing the constitutional ban on terminations, triggering scenes of tearful jubilation in Dublin on Saturday after a divisive and often emotional campaign.

Hugging, celebrating, singing and cheering wildly, thousands crammed into the courtyard of Dublin Castle, where the official result was declared, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Wonderful, wonderful, today is wonderful!” said 65-year-old Eileen Shields, who had been ostracized for falling pregnant outside of marriage when she was 18.

The crowds cheered and popped champagne corks as the result was announced. Women and men wearing “Repeal” tops and “Yes” badges waved Irish flags and placards reading “Thank you,” with love hearts on.

The final results of Friday’s referendum showed 66.4 percent voted for removing the constitutional ban, while 33.6 voted against. The turnout was 64 percent.

Among the 40 constituencies, the pro-choice vote peaked at 78 percent in Dublin Bay South, while rural Donegal was the only one to vote against liberalizing abortion, by 52 percent.

“A quiet revolution has taken place,” Varadkar said in a speech at Dublin Castle.

“No more stigma. The veil of secrecy is lifted. No more isolation. The burden of shame is gone.”

He said Saturday would be remembered as the day Ireland “stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light. The day we came of age as a country.”

His government proposes allowing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

Varadkar said he wanted the law in force by the end of the year and Health Minister Simon Harris said that the cabinet would meet on Tuesday to approve the drafting of legislation.

The result is another hammer blow to the Roman Catholic Church’s authority in Ireland, coming three years after referendum voters backed legalizing same-sex marriage by 62 percent.

An exit poll for The Irish Times newspaper suggested 70 percent of women and 65 percent of men voted to overturn the ban.

People over 65 voted 60 percent against. However, all other age groups backed the proposal, with support at 87 percent among voters aged 18 to 24.

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