Ireland’s landslide victory to legalize abortion called “quiet revolution”

DUBLIN (CBS News) — In Ireland, it’s being called a quiet revolution and a victory for women. The once conservative nation voted “yes” to repeal a constitutional ban on abortion.

The landslide vote, celebrated outside Parliament Saturday, shows an overwhelming desire for change in a country once so closely entwined with Catholic tradition. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar addressed the nation Saturday morning. “I think what we’ve seen today, really, a combination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland for the past 10-20 years.”

Lawmakers will now move to allow women to get abortions in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. More than two-thirds of voters said “yes” to repealing Ireland’s 8th Amendment, the seismic equivalent of a red state turning blue. The 1983 law banned all abortions except when a mother’s life was at risk. In Europe, only Malta and Poland have similar bans.

Ireland has leaned more liberal in the last few decades as the rate of Catholicism has declined. Divorce was legalized in 1995 and gay marriage in 2015.

Ahead of Friday’s vote the Catholic Church in Ireland encouraged its followers to keep the right to life in the constitution but critics say the church’s moral authority has weakened after a series of child abuse scandals. Since 1981 the number of practicing Catholics have dropped by around 15 percent.

Campaigning ahead of Friday’s referendum was often divisive and there was concern over foreign influence on Ireland’s vote after revelations of meddling in the U.S. election. In an unprecedented move earlier this month, Facebook and Google banned all online ads from campaign groups outside Ireland.

But ultimately this was a uniquely Irish vote fueled by reform. In some areas, turnout was 70 percent.

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