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A CLOSE result was expected as Ireland went to the polls today in a historic vote that could finally see abortion legalised in a country with one of the world’s most restrictive pregnancy laws.
Polling stations across the country opened at 7am and closed at 10pm, after the Star went to press, as Irish citizens cast their votes on whether to repeal or retain a constitutional clause that outlaws the termination of a pregnancy.
The referendum will see a vote on the so-called Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, which has been in place since 1983. It places the “right to life of the unborn” on an equal status with the life of a pregnant woman leading to a ban on abortion in Ireland, even in the case of rape.
Irish citizens flew in from abroad to take part in the landmark poll in scenes reminiscent of the country’s recent referendum on same-sex marriage.
If Ireland votes in favour of repealing the amendment, unrestricted abortions will be permitted in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy and up to 23 weeks if there is a health risk or foetal abnormality.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Vardaker said he was “quietly confident” Ireland would vote for change yet refused to take anything for granted.
He described the referendum as a “once in a generation decision” that could change the lives of women who find themselves in a “crisis pregnancy.”
Around 3,500 women travel abroad each year for a termination with many more forced to seek backstreet abortions or purchase pills on the internet due to the restrictions.
“We can’t change things for the 200,000 women who had to travel but we don’t have to impose that on 200,000 more,” Mr Varadkar said.
While progressives were moved to support a yes vote, the reactionary Protestant Orange Order called for a no vote.
In a statement the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland advised voters to “reflect on what abortion is and read what God says about the sanctity of human life.”
Although 78 per cent of population still identified as Catholic in 2016, the once-powerful influence of the church has been hit by revelations of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups by priests.
The results were expected after the Star went to print.
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