Irish abortion referendum: Counting starts as exit polls show landslide in favor
(CNN) -- The counting of votes was underway Saturday following Ireland's referendum to lift the constitutional ban on abortion after exit polls pointed to an emphatic "Yes".
A poll released by Ireland's national broadcaster RTE shortly after polling stations closed Friday night predicted that nearly 70% voted in in favor of repealing a 35-year-old amendment to Ireland's constitution that placed the rights of mother and embryo on the same footing.
Crowds of "Yes" voters began to gather to celebrate at Dublin Castle on Saturday morning. "We expected just to scrape by. We thought it would be close," said Heather Keane, 24, who lives in London but flew home for the vote.
She said she had been crying tears of joy on the news of the exit polls.
Official results are expected late Saturday afternoon.
"It's a very compassionate result," said Rebecca Moynihan, a Labor local politician in Dublin. "People knew what they were voting for. They have listened to the stories of Irish women."
The Eighth Amendment, which was added to the constitution following a referendum in 1983, banned abortion in Ireland unless there was a "real and substantial risk" to the mother's life.
If the exit polls are confirmed, the referendum will also complete a circle of sweeping social reforms in the European Union nation that fly in the face of the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church, from contraception to divorce, and most recently gay marriage.
Those opposed to abortion vowed Saturday to now take their fight to the Irish Parliament, where lawmakers will have to bring about legislation allowing for terminations in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy -- and later in cases where there is a risk to the mother's life or the fetus is not expected to survive.
The vote appears to signify an astounding victory for the government of Prime Minister, or Taoiseach as the office is called in Ireland, Leo Varadkar.
"We will hold the Taoiseach to his promise that repeal would only lead to abortion in very restrictive circumstances. He gave his word on this, now he must deliver on it. No doubt many people voted for repeal based on the Taoiseach's promises in this regard," Dr Ruth Cullen, campaigner for the pro-life LoveBoth campaign said in a press conference Saturday.
Varadkar, is not only Ireland's youngest ever and also first openly gay Prime Minister but also the first of duel heritage, is father is an Indian doctor.
It was also the tragic case of an Indian dentist, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who died in Ireland in 2012, because of complications form a natural miscarriage after abortion was denied to her, that ignited the pro-choice campaign.
Turnout was high in all of the 6,500 polling stations in 40 constituencies across the Republic on Friday. If the final turnout, which will be released Saturday, surpasses 60.52%, it will be higher than Ireland's referendum on same-sex marriage, which passed in 2015. Turnout was over 70% in some areas, RTE reported.
The exit poll showed 69% of men voting and 72.1% of women voting supporting repeal, among an electorate of more than 3.2 million were eligible to cast their ballots Friday, including thousands of Irish people living overseas who had made the journey home to vote.
Support appeared to decrease with age. The exit poll said repeal was supported by 87.6% of voters 18-24 years old; 84.6% of voters 25-34 years old; 72.8% of voters 35-49 years old; and 63.7% of voters 50-64 years old.
Voters over 65 were the only age group overall not supporting the amendment, with 58.7% voting no, the poll said.
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(Editors Note: Edits made for grammatical purposes).