Exit Polls Indicate Ireland Will Repeal 'Cruel and Inhumane' Abortion Laws

The nation's Eight Amendment prohibited abortion in almost all circumstances

Volunteers from Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity (ROSA) on O'Connell Street in Dublin, calling for a 'Yes' vote in Ireland's Abortion referendum on Friday, while dressed wearing 'Handmaid's Tale' outfits. Credit: © Niall Carson/PA Wire/ZUMA

Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the developed world, but that appears soon to change according to exit polls conducted by The Irish Times. If the final vote tally mirrors the exit polls, it will be a major win for women's rights, repealing a constitutional amendment that forbade abortions in almost all circumstances, including in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality. The result of the vote was scheduled to be announced Saturday.

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s vote, those who supported a "Yes" vote – meaning those who wished to repeal the amendment – campaigned against those supporting a "No" vote, or those who wished to leave it in tact. Though polls indicated the "Yes" campaign would prevail, many expected the vote to be close. After the official results are in, lawmakers are expected to pass legislation that will allow abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as well as in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

Enacted in 1983, Ireland’s Eighth Amendment equates the rights of the fetus and the mother, and bans all abortion unless there is a "real and substantial risk" to the mother’s survival. This stance on abortion stems largely from the country’s Catholic roots, and the amendment persisted through decades of efforts to relax restrictions. Among the groups who had opposed the amendment was the United Nations, which has called Ireland’s abortion laws "cruel and inhumane."

More than 3.2 million people were eligible to vote on the referendum, and thousands of Irish citizens living around the world traveled home in an effort to repeal the amendment, using the #HomeToVote hashtags to chronicle their trips on social media.

Under the Eighth Amendment, Irish women are forced to travel abroad to receive safe and legal abortions. Those opting to stay home and receive an abortion illegally run the risk of spending up to 14 years in prison. 

Most of Ireland’s political leaders have come out in support of the "Yes" campaign, including the nation’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar. "If we don't remove the [Eighth] Amendment from the constitution, our doctors and lawmakers can't do anything for women," Varadkar said. "They can't do anything for women who have been raped, who are children themselves or who have been given the heartbreaking news of fatal fetal abnormality."