A big change could be in store for what's considered Europe's most restrictive nation on abortion. The Irish people are voting Friday in a referendum that could see the removal of a near-total constitutional ban on abortion, enacted by another referendum 35 years ago with support from the Roman Catholic church. The vote to repeal or keep the eighth amendment—which views "the right to life of the unborn" as equal to that of the mother and therefore prohibits abortion in cases of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormalities—is expected to be close. Opinion polls showed "repeal" voters slightly ahead but up to 20% of voters undecided, reports the Guardian, noting the votes of thousands of Irish expatriates returning home for the referendum "could be significant."
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar calls the vote a "once in a generation decision," noting it could be another 35 years before abortion is revisited. Should voters choose repeal, a move backed by UN Human Rights Committee, the government will introduce legislation allowing unrestricted abortion via pill during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with abortions also permitted until the 23rd week in cases of fatal fetal abnormality or when a woman's health is at risk. Any woman seeking an abortion would need to wait three days after meeting with a doctor, reports the Washington Post. Currently, some 3,500 Irish women travel abroad to get abortions each year, and though seeking or providing an abortion can carry a 14-year prison term, another 2,000 are believed to illegally procure abortion pills. The vote result is expected Saturday afternoon. (Read more Ireland stories.)