Irish abortion referendum: Polls close

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Campaigners Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The vote will decide whether to repeal a part of the constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment

Polls have closed in the Republic of Ireland’s referendum on abortion laws.

The vote will decide whether to repeal a part of the constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, which effectively bans terminations in the country.

Two exit polls – by national broadcaster RTE and the Irish Times newspaper – show large votes in favour of repealing the amendment.

The counting of votes will begin at 09:00 local time on Saturday.

RTE’s exit poll suggested a 69.4% in favour of the Yes side in the referendum and 30.6% for ‘No’. In Dublin, 79% of people voted for repeal, according to the RTE poll.

An exit poll released by The Irish Times points to 68% Yes to 32% for ‘No’.

Tweeting on Friday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “Thank you to everyone who voted today. Democracy in action. It’s looking like we will make history tomorrow…. “

The turnout at mid-afternoon on Friday was higher than at the same stage of the country’s referendum on same-sex marriage and its most recent general election.

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Image caption The Eighth Amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983

Currently, abortion is only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk, but not in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

Shane Harrison, BBC NI Dublin correspondent

We have results of two exit polls tonight.

An RTE exit poll predicts a victory for the yes campaign with 69.4% of the vote, while an Irish Times poll predicts a 68% vote for Yes.

This is good news for Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, who advocated for a yes vote.

It is also good news for Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, whose party campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote and Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil who went against the majority of his party to campaign for ‘Yes’.

But they are only exit polls at the end of the day.

Residents of Irish islands cast their votes on Thursday, to ensure their votes reached count centres on time.

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Media captionThe background and potential outcomes to the Republic of Ireland’s abortion referendum

One ballot box, on Inis Fraoich island, received just one vote. Four people on the island were on the voter register.

More than 3.2 million people were registered to vote in the referendum, with more than 100,000 new voters registering ahead of the poll.

The referendum was the result of a decades-long debate about abortion in the Republic of Ireland and was the country’s sixth vote on the issue.

The now-controversial Eighth Amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983.

Where does the law stand?

Since 2013, terminations have been allowed in Ireland but only when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide.

The maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

In 2017, the Citizens’ Assembly, a body set up advise the Irish government on constitutional change, voted to replace or amend the part of Ireland’s Constitution which strictly limits the availability of abortion.

So the Irish people were asked if they wanted to remove the Eighth Amendment and allow politicians to set the country’s abortion laws in the future.

The wording on the ballot paper was: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”

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” – meaning the life of the woman and the unborn are seen as equal.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar casts his vote on Friday

After eight weeks of hard campaigning on both sides, it is now decision time for voters.

Ballots were cast at more than 6,500 stations across 40 constituencies in the Republic of Ireland.

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Image caption Referendum result is expected on Saturday evening

The ballot paper did not mention the Eighth Amendment or abortion, instead asking: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned Bill?”

Those who wanted to retain the Eighth Amendment voted no, while those who want to replace it voted yes.

If the majority of people who took part in the poll voted Yes, then the Irish government’s recommendation is that women will be able to access a termination within the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy.

However, beyond 12 weeks, abortions would only be permitted where there is a risk to a woman’s life or of serious harm to the physical or mental health of a woman, up until the 24th week of pregnancy.

Terminations would also be permitted in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

A result is expected early on Saturday evening.

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