Ireland's referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country's strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years. An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon, per the AP. The newspaper exit poll indicates overwhelming support for change. The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe's strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a "yes" vote would be a landmark in Irish women's fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland's commitment to protect the unborn. The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland's trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office. The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place. The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman's life is at risk.
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