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Polls Show Likely Abortion Law Change In Ireland

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ireland has voted to repeal its Eighth Amendment - one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world. Nearly all results are in, and 67 percent of the voters apparently said yes to the repeal. The Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEO VARADKAR: Well, I think what we've seen today really is a culmination of a quiet revolution that's been taking place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years.

SIMON: Alice Fordham joins us from Dublin. Alice, thanks so much for being with us. And what's the reaction out there today?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, Scott, for many people, it is jubilant, and it feels historic. I was in the counting center earlier where all Dublin's votes are being counted. And there were a lot of people there who had campaigned to change the law observing the tally, in some cases watching their own neighborhood's voting box being counted. And it was very emotional.

As I arrived, one woman said that she felt like she had woken up in a whole new country today. Another one said she'd been campaigning for this for 35 years - since that controversial amendment preventing changed abortion laws was put in the constitution.

And then there was another younger woman who was crying. She told me that so many women had opened up about their own experiences of abortion in this campaign, and that ranged from people who travel abroad to have an abortion, as a lot of people do here every year, and they spoke often about how lonely and how stigmatizing that felt. And then she told me her own story of surviving a sexual assault and being so anxious she would be pregnant and not having any recourse to terminate the pregnancy safely.

And, you know, Ireland - it has changed so much here since the 1990s. It's made contraception easy to access. It's legalized divorce and homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And I think, for many people, they felt like abortion was the last, what they called, of the moral battle that they had to fight here.

SIMON: And what kind of conversations have you had with people on the other side who voted to keep the law?

FORDHAM: Well, understandably, they're disappointed. And most people didn't really want to talk, although I did speak to one man who said he'd worked all his life as a teacher with severely disabled children. He said he was proud to have voted the way that he had, and he wished there could've been a compromise. But, you know, Scott, he didn't seem hugely surprised. He said he felt like Ireland was going through a huge social change. And that fits with what other people I've spoken to have said.

I spoke to a priest. Of course, the Catholic Church in Ireland has historically been very powerful, very socially conservative. And this priest here in Dublin, he told me he'd be disappointed but not surprised if abortion was legalized here. And I think that speaks to the erosion of trust in the church here, particularly with respect to women and children, after a series of scandals of abuse, basically.

SIMON: And what happens from here on out now that abortion has been struck down but the law still exists?

FORDHAM: So pro-abortion rights lawmakers say they hope that they will be able to change it by the end of the year. This is set to allow, among other things, the right to elective abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In the short term, there are a lot of parties planned in Dublin, but I think there's also a lot of people who are just exhausted by this fight as well.

SIMON: Alice Fordham in Dublin, thanks so much.

FORDHAM: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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