Exit polls: Ireland votes for abortion -- and it's not close

Most people foresaw a loss for the pro-life movement in Ireland, but not in a landslide. The official count of today’s vote to repeal the constitutional amendment banning abortion will not start until tomorrow, but an exit poll conducted by the Irish Times leaves little doubt about the outcome:

Ireland has voted by a landslide margin to change the constitution so that abortion can be legalised, according to an exit poll conducted for The Irish Times by Ipsos/MRBI.

The poll suggests that the margin of victory for the Yes side in the referendum will be 68 per cent to 32 per cent – a stunning victory for the Yes side after a long and often divisive campaign.

And believe it or not, that’s the more modest margin. Another exit poll from broadcaster Raidio Teilifís Éireann puts the win at 69.4%/30.6%.

These are exit polls and not a vote count, but the sample size and the Irish Times track record gives it a pretty high level of reliability. Besides, with this kind of a split, precision isn’t really the point, even though the newspaper claims a ± 1.5% margin of error. Even at twice that, the result would be 65/35.

The first clue that it could get bad was the turnout numbers, which started off heavy and continued picking up steam all day. Various media reports suggested that younger voters in particular were casting ballots in large numbers, and turnout in larger cities was heavy. However, support for the repeal turned out to be strong even in rural areas, a surprising outcome. In the Connacht-Ulster region, where tradition and religious values are considered the strongest, the measure will pass easily by a 59/41 margin, the exit poll suggests. The only demographic to oppose the measure was voters over 65 years of age.

The breadth of the win will matter significantly. Even with a repeal of the amendment, abortion remains illegal until the Dáil (the Irish parliament) specifically passes legislation to legalize it. The current government has a bill ready for introduction that will allow abortion on demand until the 12th week of pregnancy after a three-day waiting period following a consultation, and will be induced with oral medication. No abortions at all will be allowed after the 24th week, considered the viability threshold, and only those abortions considered necessary to prevent the death or serious harm of the mother between 12 and 24 weeks will be legal.

Had the referendum vote been close, the bill might still have had a tough time getting through the Dáil. With this result, though, it should sail through — and one has to wonder whether the restrictions might get loosened after this demonstration of public sentiment. If not now, expect pro-choice advocates to erode these restrictions in the next few years.

It’s a tough blow for unborn children and the pushback against the utilitarian view of human life. The outcome seems shocking for Ireland, which has held out against that for so long, but it comes from a combination of factors — greater cultural integration with the rest of Europe, perhaps, and the Irish tendency toward progressive politics in other areas. But perhaps the greatest contributing factor was a series of decades-long scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland that devastated their credibility and standing in matters of morality and justice. The crimes and cover-ups put on public display in the 2009 Ryan Report has had Catholicism and Catholic values in retreat, and secular values have understandably flooded into the vacuum left behind. This in particular is the wages of many sins.

In the end, the Irish have chosen their path. We should pray for them and hope their path of abortion on demand does not get as dark as it has in the US, where that policy was imposed by judicial fiat. The pro-life community there — and here — should unite to help make abortion irrelevant by finding ways to bring hope and joy to women in despair over pregnancy, and to ensure that abortion is as unnecessary as possible.