'No more stigma': Ireland abortion laws to be reformed

The result in Ireland's historic referendum on relaxing abortion laws has been a "resounding" yes.

Speaking shortly after the result was confirmed, the country's prime minister Leo Varadkar said it marked "the day Ireland stepped out from under the last of our shadows and into the light".

The country has voted in favour of ending the abortion ban with 66.4% in favour with 33.6% against.

The only area to have voted to keep the ban was the county of Donegal.

Exit polls released after Friday's vote had suggested more than two thirds of voters wanted to change the country's strict law.

Mr Varadkar, who had campaigned for the Eighth Amendment to be repealed, said: "Today is an historic day for Ireland. A quiet revolution has taken place," in a speech at Dublin Castle, where the referendum result was declared.

"We as a people have spoken. And we say that we trust women and we respect women and their decisions.

"No more doctors telling their patients there is nothing that can be done for them in their own country. No more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea.

"No more stigma. The veil of secrecy is lifted. No more isolation. The burden of shame is gone."

Mr Varadkar says he plans to have a new abortion law enacted by the end of the year - introducing unrestricted access to abortion for women up to 12 weeks pregnant.

After that, abortions will only be allowed until the 24th week of pregnancy if there is a risk to a woman's life, or a risk of serious harm to the physical or mental health of a woman.

Under the current law, an unborn child has the same right to life as the mother - and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

John McGuirk, the spokesman for Ireland's Save The 8th anti-abortion campaign, said the group had conceded defeat before the final result was confirmed.

Two polls on behalf of national broadcaster RTE and the Irish Times correctly suggested a landslide victory for the Yes campaign.

In the end, 66.4% voted in favour with 33.6% against.

Dublin Bay South had the highest percentage in favour, with 78.5% voting yes.

Many of the Dublin constituencies saw almost 80% of votes in favour of the reform.

Ireland's health minister has said the story of the late Savita Halappanavar was in the front of his mind when he voted , but he would not be drawn on the suggestion that the new abortion law should be called Savita's Law.

Simon Harris said: "I'm not sure whether the bill should be called that, but it certainly will be Savita's law in many ways because Savita has had such a profound impact on the thinking of so many people in this country including myself."

UK Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt said it was a "historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland".

She tweeted: "That hope must be met. #HomeToVote stories are a powerful and moving testimony as to why this had to happen and that understanding & empathy exists between generations. #trustwomen."

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There have been six referendums on the matter of abortion in the past 35 years in Ireland, and the issue has long divided the country.

Many Irish women seeking an abortion are forced to travel abroad, often to the UK.

"Home to vote" campaigns had gained momentum in recent weeks, bringing hundreds of young people back to exercise their democratic right.

Others made the journey to "Save the Eighth" - the 1983 amendment to the constitution that equates the life of the unborn child with the life of the mother.

The effective prohibition on abortion in Ireland was partially lifted in 2013 for cases when a mother's life was in danger.

The referendum on the issue rose towards the top of the political agenda after the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.

The 31-year-old was miscarrying her first baby and was refused a termination at a hospital in Galway.

She died of blood poisoning.

Save The 8th had claimed politicians were "effectively seeking a licence to kill pre-born babies, and to introduce an abortion model that is in many ways even more extreme than the British regime".

It says the current law protects the mother as much as the baby, and denied the rules have ever stopped doctors giving a woman life-saving treatment.

Some also fear that prenatal screening teamed with legal abortion could lead to the eradication of people with Down's syndrome if the Irish constitution is changed.