Irish Abortion Referendum: Emotional Scenes As Anti-Abortion Campaign Admits Defeat


By Sarah Ann Harris,Sara C Nelson

IRELAND – As the results of the historic abortion referendum trickled in on Saturday and the scale of the landslide victory for the Yes campaign dawned, there were scenes of jubilation across the country from women and men who had fought to repeal the restrictive eighth amendment. 

Speaking at a vote count centre at the Dublin Royal Society, Sarah Ross, who is heavily pregnant and had helped count ballots, said the result made her feel positive for the future. “My baby will grow up in an Ireland where healthcare for women is not compromised.”  

Nearby, Yes campaigner Dr Peter Boylan said he was “very relieved” and felt vindicated. “It’s a wonderful day for Irish women,” he said.

In Dublin in particular, where early counts suggested residents had voted overwhelming in favour of legalising abortion, there were emotional scenes after the anti-abortion campaign conceded defeat. 

In the Portobello area of Dublin, a mural to Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old woman who died in 2012 after being denied an abortion, was adorned on Saturday with messages of remembrance, with people flocking to the site to pay their respects. 

One message read: “Sorry we were too late for you, but we are here now. We didn’t forget you.”

Impromptu songs and dances rang out on streets across the city. One group got together with a guitar and belted out a rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, but replacing the refrain with “don’t stop, repealing”. 

At the Temple Bar gallery, hundreds of post-it notes with messages of joy and support appeared on an outside wall, with one reading: “Yes for women, yes for compassion, yes for care, yes for choice.”

In County Meath, the Employment Minister Regina Doherty has said she was feeling very emotional on Saturday morning, telling RTE Radio there were people at her voting centre who were crying because of the wave of emotion around the issue.

“We’ve woken up into a country where no longer will couples who receive awful diagnoses be taken away from their own families and their own doctors,” Doherty said.

“Young women who genuinely are in crisis and have made those decisions in the past can now do it with their own doctor and maybe explore other options that they might not have done before.”

The Together For Yes campaign said that dignity and decency had won out. Campaign co-director Orla O’Connor said if the polls were correct, this was “a resounding roar from the Irish people” for repealing the amendment.

Co-director Ailbhe Smyth said: “(Once confirmed) this will be a moment of profound change in Ireland’s social history, a moment when the nation collectively stood up for women and for their healthcare, and voted for constitutional change.

“Together For Yes always knew that Ireland was ready for this change, because of the evidence and facts showing the harm and the pain of the Eighth Amendment.”

Many people also expressed their joy and relief at the decision on social media, which has played a central role in women sharing their stories in the run-up to the vote – whether in telling of their journeys home from abroad to make their voices heard, or helping to fund plane tickets for women who couldn’t afford to travel.

Reacting to the exit poll results, a director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) said that “this is a momentous step forward that is long overdue.

“For decades, Irish women have been forced to travel hundreds of miles to our clinics in England, often alone, at a huge personal and emotional cost.

“The result, once confirmed, means that the Irish government can bring an end to this suffering, and legislate to provide the care women need at home.”

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, whose own wife had an abortion after discovering the foetus she was carrying had a condition meaning it would not live for longer than an hour after birth, summed up the result with a meme of one of the sitcom’s famous scenes. 

But not everyone shared in the jubilation. Speaking to Sky, one woman who had travelled back from the US to vote no, said: “I’m disappointed overall. Extremely disappointed. I came home early to campaign for the No vote – I believe in the fundamental right to life. I don’t think this is the right way, despite the democratic vote”


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