Voting underway on Ireland's abortion referendum

Voting was underway in Ireland on Friday on a referendum that could legalize abortions in the country, which currently bans the practice except in rare cases when the mother’s life is in danger.

The referendum in the largely Roman Catholic country will decide whether to repeal a constitutional amendment, in place since 1983, that protects the life of fetuses from the moment of conception.

If citizens vote to repeal the amendment, new abortion laws would then be discussed in parliament. The government has proposed that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with later abortions permitted only in limited cases.

Pro-abortion activists say the country's unusually strict laws simply encourage women to travel internationally to obtain abortions.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted his support for the repeal before a moratorium on campaigning took effect Thursday.

Results are not expected until Saturday afternoon or evening. Voting has already taken place on Ireland's offshore islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.

AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE SPECIFICS OF IRELAND'S ABORTION REFERENDUM

There was good weather Friday morning in the capital, Dublin, and much of the country, a factor that could help the "yes" forces in favor of repeal get the heavy turnout they seek.

Presiding officer Carmel McBride looks on as a woman casts her vote in the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution

Presiding officer Carmel McBride looks on as a woman casts her vote in the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution (Associated Press)

"Yes" campaigners were handing out stickers at several major pedestrian crossroads Friday morning. Many people voted on their way to work and sported "I voted" buttons.

Graffiti saying "Trust Women" by "yes" backers was scrawled on the pavement outside the North Grand Church polling station in Dublin as voting opened.

But letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.

"If we vote 'yes', every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights," wrote one woman. "I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill. I will be voting no."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.