Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic country that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They say it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize abortion rules.
It’s also a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after it elected a gay prime minister.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first people to arrive at the North Grand Church polling station in Dublin.
“I’m not usually an early riser, but I couldn’t wait to get down here to vote,” she said. “I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this.”
Vera Rooney cast her ballot at the same polling place.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. Abortion in largely Catholic Ireland is illegal except in cases when the woman’s life is in danger, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighbouring Britain.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favour of repeal Friday morning at Laurel Lodge in Castleknock.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding. “A high turnout I think would be to the advantage to the ‘yes’ campaign, and obviously the upside of a good sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.”
Results are not expected until Saturday afternoon or evening. Voting has already taken place on islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’, every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill. I will be voting no.”
If citizens vote in favour of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Gregory Katz And Renata Brito, The Associated Press