Ireland Votes to Liberalize Abortion Regime in Landslide

(Bloomberg) -- Ireland overwhelmingly voted to liberalize some of Western Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws in the nation’s most decisive break yet with its Roman Catholic roots.

Voters backed the removal of a wide-ranging constitutional block on terminations by about 66 percent to 34 percent, in results greeted by cheering crowds of pro-choice supporters at Dublin Castle on Saturday. Some carried the Irish tricolor, others waved ‘Yes’ placards, in scenes echoing the same-sex marriage referendum three years ago.

“A quiet revolution has taken place,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, hailing a “remarkable” day. “We are not a divided country -- the result is resounding. The burden of shame has been lifted.”

The win for the pro-choice campaign marks another step away from its conservative history. Contraception wasn’t widely available until the 1990s, while divorce was legalized in a close 1995 vote. In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a public vote, and Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, became the country’s leader, or Taoiseach, last year.

The result “will be seen as an indication that there has been a clear victor” in the “moral civil wars” that broke out in the 1980s, Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of history at University College Dublin, said. It “indicates an Ireland that is not the Catholic state for a Catholic people that it was for so long.”

Irish Abortion Vote Further Tests Generational Change: QuickTake

The law on abortion is enshrined in the country’s constitution, which can be changed only by referendum. As a result of the Eighth Amendment to the document, which voters overwhelmingly backed in 1983, the state “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn” and gives the unborn "equal right to life as the mother."

Effectively, that means abortion is banned in Ireland unless the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the mother’s life. Varadkar wants to remove the current language on abortion, paving the way for terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy and only in very limited circumstances -- such as a fatal fetal abnormality -- after that.

Pro-life campaigners vowed to carry on the fight.

“We will hold the Taoiseach to his promise that repeal would only lead to abortion in very restrictive circumstances,” said Ruth Cullen of the Love Both campaign, using the title for the prime minister. “He gave his word on this, now he must deliver on it.”

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