On Friday, May 25, the fate of the Eight Amendment of the Irish Constitution was in the hands of voters. Since 1983, that amendment rendered abortion illegal for Irish citizens. Friday’s referendum, however, tasked voters with reconsidering whether Ireland legalizes abortion going forward, and the initial results are now in since the polls closed at 5 p.m. local time. The majority of Irish citizens have decided for legalizing abortion, by a margin of 68 to 32 percent of voters, according to The Irish Times. The official results will be announced on Saturday.
The result of the referendum has now changed the status quo in Ireland, a decision that rejects the result of the last abortion referendum in Ireland, which came 35 years ago. According to The Irish Times, 87 percent of people aged 18 to 24 voted to repeal the ban.
Back then, over two-thirds of Irish voters (67 percent, per Time) chose to criminalize abortion — except in cases in which a mother’s life is threatened by pregnancy — leading to the creation of the Eighth Amendment. The text of the amendment reads, “The State 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.”
The decision to repeal the amendment is likely to result in Ireland legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, with a 72-hour waiting period.
Friday’s vote on abortion was the second major referendum for Ireland in the last three years, with voters having decided in 2015 to legalize gay marriage.
Ahead of Friday’s referendum, pro-abortion Irish citizens from all over the world chronicled their journeys back #HomeToVote, detailing the stories of their travels using that hashtag on social media.
“I’m coming #HomeToVote! Will be traveling 5,169 miles from LA to Dublin and will be thinking of every Irish woman who has had to travel to access healthcare that should be available in their own country,” Lauren Canny, a 19-year-old actress who lives in California, tweeted on Tuesday. “Let’s do this, Ireland!”
The Irish voters who attended to vote for a repeal included the country’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 in an appeal to voters, per USA Today. “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.”
Pro-abortion advocates argued that Ireland’s Eighth Amendment is a danger for woman, prompts some to consider unsafe recourse or travel abroad for legal abortion.
“If the referendum doesn’t pass, these women will continue to have to travel abroad in their thousands,” Varadkar said.
The creation of the referendum itself is arguably the result of one of those travels. In 2016, the Irish government compensated a woman who traveled to Britain for an abortion after learning her unborn child had a fatal illness. Before the compensation, the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee ruled that the mother had been caused “trauma and distress” by the Irish government because of being forced to travel abroad for the procedure.
The event reignited the debate around abortion, leading to call for a new referendum on the issue. Those calls were answered in September 2017, when the Irish government formally announced that voters would have the chance to either uphold or repeal the eight amendment.
“Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people,” Varadkar said at the time. “They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate.”
On Friday, after months of consideration, Irish voters went to the polls to make their decision. The result is apparently a vote for repealing the 35-year-old constitutional ban on abortion.