Irish voters are casting their ballots on Friday in an abortion referendum that could represent a change in the path of a country that was once one of Europe’s more socially conservative.
The country is voting on whether to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, which outlaws abortion by giving equal rights to the unborn.
Voters will be asked if they wish to scrap a prohibition that was added in the constitution by referendum 35 years ago, and partly lifted in 2013 only for cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The result is expected to be close after a polarising campaign, but the latest polls suggest voters are ready to overturn the ban. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in favour of change, has called the referendum a “once in a generation decision”.
If the proposal to repeal the Eighth Amendment is defeated on Friday, the country will not have a second referendum and it could be another 35 years before voters have their say on the matter again, Varadkar said according to the Irish Times.
“I’m very hopeful because I believe we have understood in Ireland that it [the ban] is a cruelty that must end now, we’ve had enough,” Ailbhe Smyth, the co-director of the Together for Yes pro-choice campaign, told AFP news agency.
Currently, 78 percent of the Irish population is Catholic, and members of the church are hoping their members will vote No.
Geraldine Martin, a spokeswoman for the Love Both pro-life campaign, said the government had failed to help mothers with unwanted pregnancies.
“At no stage has the government held out its hand to these women and said, ‘How can I help you? How can I take the pressure off you so you don’t feel so driven towards abortion?” she told AFP.
If the proposal to repeal the Eighth Amendment is defeated .. it could be another 35 years before the voters have their say on the matter again
Leo Varadkar, Primer Minister
Thousands of people living abroad returned home to vote. Ireland is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not allow those abroad to vote via post or in embassies.
Those away for less than 18 months remain eligible to vote at their former local polling station.
The hashtag #HomeToVote trended on Twitter, with voters posting photos of both “yes” and “no”.
Those living on the Atlantic islands cast their ballot a day early to help prevent delays in transportation and counting the ballot papers.
In Ireland polling stations open at 6:00GMT and close at 21:00GMT and national broadcaster RTE is expected to publish an exit poll at 22:30GMT. The first indications of the final result are expected on Saturday, after the count begins at 08:00GMT.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies