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Vote over abortion ban underscores how Ireland is changing

In historically religious Ireland, the voting booths are in churches. But this is not the same country once dominated by Catholicism. A new constitutional amendment up for vote on Friday would allow Parliament to legalize unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. And according to initial exit polls, it has succeeded. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, voters in Ireland went to the polls today for an important vote.

    The Irish constitution bans abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. A new constitutional amendment up for vote today would allow Parliament to legalize abortion. And according to initial exit polls, it seems to have succeeded.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin has our story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In this historically conservative and religious society, the voting booths are in churches, and some of the voters show up in habits.

    But old Irish habits are dying, and this is not the same country once dominated by the Catholic Church.

  • Theresa Sweeney:

    I woke up at 6:00 this morning. I'm not usually an early riser, but I couldn't wait to get down here to vote.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Women like Theresa Sweeney are trying to replace a law that can currently send women who get abortions to 14 years in prison, with a law that would allow unrestricted abortions for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The campaign has been painful, and divided families and friends.

  • Woman:

    My son's godmother and I actually had a huge falling out. We haven't spoken a year, because she's a nurse and she is voting yes. And I vote no. And it's literally — it has actually divided us. We are just not speaking at all.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Both sides have made their cases with personal stories. Amy Callahan has a new son, but in another pregnancy, her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition. She couldn't have an abortion in Ireland, so she and her husband, Connor (ph), flew to the U.K.

  • Amy Callahan:

    That night we had the abortion, went off that night, and we brought Nico (ph) with us back to the hotel room in a little box. And I hadn't eaten in something like 48 hours. And Connor went off to get dinner.

    And I didn't want to leave Nico. And the next day, we flew back to Ireland. And as we were walking in the airport, I turned to Connor. We were walking through security, and I turned to Connor and I was like, are they going to ask us to open the box?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Callahans want Irish women to be able to get the help they need in Ireland.

  • Amy Callahan:

    It's going to be medically safe. And for women like me, they're going to get the care that they need when their baby is dying anyway.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes campaigners cite the case of Savita Halappanavar, who in 2012 died after her fetus became stillborn, but the hospital refused to give her an abortion.

    Shona Murray is a special correspondent with The Irish Independent.

  • Shona Murray:

    It was too late, and she died. And she died as a direct consequence of the 8th Amendment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Catholic Church stills runs the majority of schools here, and influences most of society, but scandals have eroded its influence, especially among a younger generation.

  • Shona Murray:

    You also have a very young country, a young population, a population that has grown up within the European Union, that has engaged in progressive liberalism, that has traveled the world, and that's the other side of this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But no campaigners have their own stories to tell. Vicky Wall chose to give birth to her daughter Liadan, even though she was born at 32 weeks with a fatal syndrome, and died shortly after.

  • Vicky Wall:

    Liadan died at home surrounded by her family, and with love and with care, and most of all with dignity. We have to look at what the choice entails. What are we saying we have the choice to do? We're looking to have the choice to end a unique human life. I am extremely pro-life, and I think life should be protected.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Twenty-year-old campaigner Abigail Malone fears that women with healthy fetuses would choose to have an abortion.

  • Abigail Malone:

    Ireland needs to remain a culture and remain a country that values the right to life of every unborn child.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is a once-in-a-generation vote, and both sides admit it's not just about abortion, but also about the soul of a still traditional country that is now transforming.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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