Ireland abortion referendum: exit polls predict landslide for Repeal

The Irish Times predicts that Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution by 68 per cent to 32 per cent. 

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Ireland has voted to repeal the eighth amendment to its constitution by a landslide, the first exit poll predicts.

A survey by the Irish Times gives the Yes campaign a resounding victory of 68 per cent to 32 per cent. The newspaper and Ipsos MORI spoke to 4,500 voters during polling today, and claim a margin of error of +/- 1.5 per cent. It predicts that support for Repeal was stronger among women than men, and among younger age groups - although every group under 65 showed a majority.

A separate RTE poll announced on The Late Late Show spoke to 3,800 people at 175 polling stations, claiming a margin of error of +/-1.6%. It suggests that 69.4% of voters went for Yes.

The referendum asked voters whether to keep or repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, which gives equal rights to the foetus and mother. In practice, doctors say, this means that pregnant women cannot receive the medical treatment that they need. Anti-abortion campaigners argued that the amendment was necessary to protect the rights of the unborn, and pointed to England as an example, with posters claiming that one in five pregnancies end in abortion. 

The final results will be known tomorrow afternoon, with counting beginning at 9am. The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who backed Yes, tweeted that Ireland was poised to "make history":

I wrote yesterday about the possibility of "Shy No" voters, but if these results are true, then there has been a groundswell of "Shy Yes" instead - both campaigns expected the result to be close, and polls were tightening the run-up to polling day. 

If, as the exit poll suggests, voters have endorsed the repeal of the Eighth amendment, the government has signalled its intention to bring new legislation to decriminalise abortion. Such an emphatic result would mean less resistance in the Dáil. 

The focus of many campaigners will then shift to Northern Ireland, which never implemented Westminster's 1967 Abortion Act. Recently, the Conservatives agreed to extend NHS funding to Northern Irish women travelling to the mainland for abortions. Labour's Stella Creasy had tabled an amendment which attracted cross-party support, prompting the goverment climbdown.

Helen Lewis is associate editor of the New Statesman. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and is writing a history of feminism for Jonathan Cape