Irish abortion referendum opens: which way will Ireland vote and when will the result be announced?

Tight result expected as pro-choice campaigners look to have the edge

Ireland abortion protest
Pro-choice protesters wave banners at September’s March for Choice in Dublin 
(Image credit: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

Voting has begun in Ireland, where citizens are being asked to decide whether to liberalise the country’s abortion laws, presently among the most restrictive in the world.

The referendum concerns the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which effectively bans abortion in all but the most extreme cases. A vote to repeal the amendment would allow the government to introduce new, less restrictive, legislation on terminations.

Polls opened at 7am local time this morning and will close at 10pm this evening. More than 3.2 million people are registered to vote, and more than 100,000 new voters registered in the run-up to the poll, the BBC reports.

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What is the current situation?

“Abortion is currently illegal in Ireland except in situations where a pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the mother,” says The Irish Times. This includes situations where a mother is feeling suicidal. Last year only 25 legal abortions were performed in the country.

“Ireland’s regime has led to a situation where most women seeking an abortion choose to avail of the procedure in another jurisdiction, usually the UK, or order abortion pills which are proscribed under Irish law,” says the newspaper.

The subject of abortion is a particularly emotive one in Ireland, where almost 80% of residents identified themselves as Catholic in the 2016 Census.

But there have been “significant social and demographic changes” in Irish society over the past 35 years, The Guardian reports.

The influence of the Church has waned, particularly among younger people, following “sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups in the 1990s”, the newspaper says.

What is Ireland voting on?

Voters are having their say on whether or not to revoke the Eighth Amendment, Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution - which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn - and “replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set the country’s abortion laws in the future”, says the BBC.

The exact wording will be: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”

The Irish government has outlined how it intends to legislate if the amendment is removed: terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy would be permitted, whatever the reason, but ministers want to impose a waiting period between the initial assessment and the termination itself. Medical personnel would also be allowed to “conscientiously object” to carrying out terminations.

What do the polls say?

The Financial Times writes that the vote is expected to be tight, although the Irish government was “cautiously confident it had gained momentum as polling day approached”.

“The nation is probably just holding its breath at this stage and we hope to have a collective sigh of relief on Saturday but we cannot take anything for granted,” said Josepha Madigan, culture minister in Leo Varadkar’s government and leader of the ruling Fine Gael party’s referendum campaign.

The latest opinion polls indicate that a majority of voters will opt to repeal the Eighth Amendment, The Guardian says, “although undecided voters – estimated at between 14% and 20% of the total – could hold sway”.

The site adds that further polls published this week showed small increases in the number of people opting to repeal, with one putting it at 56% and another at 52%.

Private polling for Fianna Fail, whose parliamentary representatives are divided on the referendum, is believed to predict a similar outcome.

When will the result be announced?

It is expected that results will start trickling in later on tonight, with a full announcement of the final decision in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

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