IRELAND - As the results of Ireland’s historic abortion referendum were confirmed on Saturday evening, women and men all over the country who had fought to repeal the restrictive Eighth Amendment celebrated the ‘Yes’ campaign’s landslide victory.
Pro-choice campaigners cheered and popped bottles of champagne at Dublin Castle after it was revealed that 66.4% of voters cast their ballot in favour legalising abortion.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris led crowds in a chant of “Yes we did”.
In the capital, ‘Yes’ voter Eleanor McLoughlin said she was “absolutely lost for words on what a turn around its been”.
“To get this kind of result is better than I could have imagined,” she added.
Others took to social media to mark the result, using the hashtag #repealedthe8th.
Celebrations for the ‘Yes’ campaign started on Saturday morning, when the pro-life ‘No’ camp admitted defeat in the race following the release of exit poll data, which signalled huge public support for repealing the 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,” she told HuffPost UK.
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.”
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”