Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

The Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (previously bill no. 29 of 2018) is an amendment to the constitution of Ireland which permits the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion. The constitution had previously prohibited abortion unless there was a serious risk to the life of the mother.

Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
To permit the Oireachtas to legislate for the regulation of termination of pregnancy
Location Ireland
DateReferendum: 25 May 2018 (2018-05-25)
In force: 18 September 2018 (2018-09-18)
Votes %
Yes 1,429,981 66.40%
No 723,632 33.60%
Valid votes 2,153,613 99.72%
Invalid or blank votes 6,042 0.28%
Total votes 2,159,655 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 3,367,556 64.13%
Results by Dáil constituency
  Yes     No

The proposal is often described as the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment, referring to the 1983 constitutional amendment which guarantees the unborn the right to life, making abortion illegal unless the pregnancy is life-threatening. The 2018 bill replaces Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution, which was added in 1983 and amended in 1992.

The bill was introduced to the Oireachtas on 9 March 2018 by the Fine Gael minority coalition government, and completed its passage through both houses on 27 March 2018. It was put to a referendum on 25 May 2018[1][2] and approved by 66.4% of voters. It took effect once signed into law by the President on 18 September 2018.[3]


The British Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which made "unlawful procurement of a miscarriage" a crime, remained in force after Irish independence in 1922. The 1983 Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which declares "the right to life of the unborn ... equal [to the] right to life of the mother", was instigated by the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign for fear that the 1861 prohibition might be weakened by liberal legislators or activist judges.[4] The 1992 "X case" (Attorney General v. X) ruled that abortion is permitted where pregnancy threatens a woman's life, including by risk of suicide. No regulatory framework within the limited scope of the X case judgement was passed until the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, impelled by the 2010 A, B, and C v Ireland case in the European Court of Human Rights and the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar after miscarriage.[5] The 2013 act repealed the 1861 act and makes "destruction of unborn human life" a crime. In the three years 2014–2016 a total of 77 legal abortions were performed under the 2013 act.[6]

Illegal surgical abortions in Ireland have been practically unknown since the UK's Abortion Act 1967 allowed Irish women to travel to Great Britain for a legal abortion. The 13th and 14th amendments to the constitution, passed in 1992 after the X case, guarantee the right to information about foreign abortions and to travel abroad for an abortion. The number of women at UK abortion clinics giving Irish addresses peaked at 6,673 in 2001 and was 3,265 in 2016.[7] The decline is partly due to unregulated use of abortion pills illegally delivered from online pharmacies.[8]

While left-wing parties and feminists opposed the 1983 amendment and have advocated its repeal, this was not supported by the two largest parties for most of the interim, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In the 2010s while both parties' leadership opposed broad liberalisation, some accepted the argument for abortion in cases like fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, which are not permitted by the 1983 amendment. These became the focus of campaigning after the 2013 act. The Abortion Rights Campaign, a pro-choice alliance formed in 2012, holds an annual "March for Choice" in Dublin.[9] Pro-life groups have countered with a "Rally for Life".[10] In the run up to the 2016 general election, a number of parties committed to a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment (Labour,[11] Green Party,[12] Social Democrats,[13] Sinn Féin,[14] and Workers' Party[15]) and a group of feminist law academics published model legislation to show what a post-Eighth Amendment abortion law could look like.[16]

A Fine Gael-led government under Taoiseach Enda Kenny took office after the 2016 election with a programme which promised a randomly selected Citizens' Assembly to report on possible changes to the Eighth Amendment, which would be considered by an Oireachtas committee, to whose report the government would respond officially in debates in both houses of the Oireachtas. Leo Varadkar replaced Enda Kenny as Taoiseach on 14 June 2017 and promised to hold a referendum on abortion in 2018.[17] The Citizens' Assembly, chaired by Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy,[18] discussed the issue from November 2016 to April 2017 with invited experts and stakeholders, and voted to recommend repealing the existing text and replacing it with an explicit mandate for the Oireachtas to legislate on abortion.[19] It also made recommendations for the consequent legislation, which were more liberal than media commentators had expected.[20] The assembly's report was considered from September to December 2017 by a special Oireachtas committee of 21 members, which also discussed the issue with invited experts; its recommendations by majority vote were broadly similar to those of the assembly.[21] However, it said that because of difficulties legislating for rape and incest, abortion should be legal up to 12 weeks' gestation without restriction; on the other hand, it did not favour socio-economic grounds for abortion after 12 weeks.[22] In January 2018, Minister for Health Simon Harris opened the Dáil debate on the committee's report by listing the numbers from each county who travelled to Great Britain for an abortion in 2016.[23] Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin declared that he had changed his view on the issue and gave his support for Repeal of the Eighth Amendment and for the Committee's recommendations.[24]

Further action was called into question by a July 2016 High Court ruling that a foetus was a child within the meaning of Article 42A of the Constitution, which guarantees children's rights. The Supreme Court agreed to expedite the government's appeal of the decision, and on 7 March 2018 overturned the High Court judgement, ruling that a foetus was not a child and had no rights other than the right to life mentioned in Article 40.3.3.[25]

Proposed change to the text

The Amendment proposes to replace the text of Article 40.3.3º,[26] which reads:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

Note: The first clause was added by the Eighth Amendment approved by referendum in 1983. The second and third clauses were added by the Thirteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment respectively approved by referendum in 1992.

As the amendment passed, the subsection will be replaced with the following text:

Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

Proposed subsequent legislation

The Department of Health published a policy paper on "Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy" on 9 March 2018.[27] This provided an outline of the policies for legislation which would repeal and replace the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 if the Amendment of Constitution Bill was passed in a referendum. Under this scheme, abortion would be permissible in circumstances where:

  • there is a risk to the health of a woman, on assessment by two doctors, without a distinction between physical and mental health;
  • there is a medical emergency, on assessment by one doctor;
  • there is a foetal condition which is likely to lead to death before or shortly after birth, on the assessment of two doctors;
  • up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without specific indication, with a time period after an initial assessment by a medical practitioner and the termination procedure.

The Policy Paper also proposed that:

  • medical practitioners would have a right of conscientious objection;
  • the termination of pregnancy in circumstances other than those under the proposal would be a criminal offence, but that a woman who procures or seeks to procure a termination of pregnancy for herself would not be guilty of an offence.

On 26 March 2018, Tánaiste Simon Coveney announced he would support legislation on the lines of the policy paper, but suggested that this should be entrenched by requiring a two-thirds supermajority in the Dáil for any later amendment.[28] This was aimed at voters prepared to accept the policy-paper regulations, but wary of subsequent liberalisation.[28] Coveney's proposal was dismissed as unconstitutional.[28][29] On 27 March 2018, the cabinet agreed the general scheme of the proposed "Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018", which health minister Simon Harris summarised that evening in the Seanad.[30][31][32] The scheme was published online the following day.[32]

Even after the referendum had passed, "Abortion [would] remain illegal in almost all circumstances until the Oireachtas passes legislation providing otherwise".[33] Health Minister Simon Harris, speaking a few days before the referendum, said the Government hoped to introduce the bill in the Dail in the autumn and to have passed it by the end of 2018.[33]

Oireachtas debate

The Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill was introduced by Minister for Health Simon Harris. The debate on the Second Stage began on 9 March 2018.[34] The Bill passed all stages in the Dáil on 21 March.[35][36] The main vote on the bill was at second stage, with 110 in favour and 32 against.[37] Of the 16 who did not vote at second stage, five voted in favour in subsequent votes. At committee stage, there were votes on Section 2 of the bill (98–18) and the short title (96–20);[38] there was also a vote on the final stage (97–25).[39] Fianna Fáil TDs had a free vote although Micheál Martin was reported to be upset at how many voted against the bill.[40] Fine Gael also gave a free vote, including for ministers.[41]

TDs voting on the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018[37][38][39][42]
Party / groupForAgainstAbsentNotes
Fine Gael42[v 1]26Seán Barrett and Peter Fitzpatrick voted against.[37]
Fianna Fáil22[v 2]211Billy Kelleher did not vote
Sinn Féin21[v 3]11Carol Nolan voted against, losing the party whip for three months.[43] She later resigned from the party. Peadar Tóibín did not vote; Gerry Adams voted in Tóibín's seat by mistake on second stage.[37]
Labour Party700
Solidarity–People Before Profit600
Independents 4 Change Group[v 4]700
Social DemocratsGreen Party[v 5]500
Rural Independents Group[v 6]160Michael Harty voted in favour.
Unaligned independents422
Total1153210[v 7]

In the Seanad, the second stage was held on 27 March, with a 35–10 vote in favour.[30] Remaining stages were the following day, with the bill passed 39–8 at committee stage and 40–10 at final stage.[44][2] Eight of the thirteen Fianna Fáil senators voted against, as did two of nineteen from Fine Gael, and independent Rónán Mullen.[v 8]

  1. Forty-one on second stage, plus Simon Coveney on final stage
  2. Twenty on second stage, plus Seán Fleming and Charlie McConalogue on later stages
  3. Nineteen on second stage, plus Dessie Ellis and Kathleen Funchion on later stages
  4. A technical group of the four Independents 4 Change party members plus three independents
  5. A technical group of two parties
  6. A technical group of independents
  7. Excluding Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who as Ceann Comhairle votes only in the case of a tie.
  8. Jennifer Murnane O'Connor (FF) voted no on second stage; Paul Coghlan (FG) voted no on final stage; nine other senators voted no both times.[30][44]


On 9 March 2018, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy established the statutory Referendum Commission to oversee the referendum campaign, with High Court judge Isobel Kennedy as Chair.[45]

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had allowed their TDs a free vote on the issue in the Dáil.[46] However, although Fine Gael "cannot adopt an official party position because members have been afforded a freedom of conscience vote on issues to do with the referendum",[47] on 21 April Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar launched a Fine Gael 'Vote Yes' campaign for Yes-supporting party members, along with party colleagues, including Minister for Health Simon Harris and Fine Gael referendum coordinator, Josepha Madigan.[47][48][49]

On 8 May 2018, due to controversy over the origin, number, content and targeting of adverts on social media,[50] Facebook announced that it would block advertisements placed by foreign entities, most of whom are in the United States, and limit them to adverts placed by Irish organisations.[51][52] On 9 May, Google announced that it was blocking all adverts on the referendum from its advertising platform and YouTube, citing concerns around the integrity of elections.[53]

On 9 May, the fund-raising web pages of Together for Yes, Amnesty Ireland and Termination for Medical Reasons were subjected to a denial-of-service attack.[54]

On 20 May, the parents of Savita Halappanavar called for a Yes vote, her father saying, "I hope the people of Ireland will vote yes for abortion, for the ladies of Ireland and the people of Ireland. My daughter, she lost her life because of this abortion law, because of the diagnosis, and she could not have an abortion. She died."[55] After the Yes vote won, Halappanavar's father thanked the people of Ireland.[56]

On 23 May, CNN reported that American-based anti-abortion groups, such as "Let Them Live", have flown to Ireland in order to sway voters to vote No to the amendment. They entered into Ireland by lying to Irish border control about their reason for coming to Ireland, claiming they were only in Ireland to document the event and nothing more, therefore breaking Irish law by their activities—they did not obtain a "Volunteer Visa", required to do voluntary work.[57]

Endorsing a Yes vote

Political parties
Other organisations

Endorsing a No vote

Political parties
Other organisations

Neutral and other positions

  • The Church of Ireland issued statements favouring giving the Oireachtas responsibility for abortion legislation, but opposing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks' gestation; it concluded, "We therefore ask Church members to think through the issues involved carefully and with prayer".[79]
  • Down Syndrome Ireland issued a statement that "it is up to each individual to make their own decision about which way to vote", and condemning the use of a baby with Down Syndrome in a poster by "Save the 8th".[80]
  • Fianna Fáil did not take a formal position on the referendum.[46] However, 31 of the party's TDs and Senators posed for a photograph, showing their opposition to repealing the eighth. This means over half of the parliamentary party are supporting a "No" vote.[81] Nonetheless, the party's leader Micheál Martin supports "Yes",[82] and, along with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, was one of the two speakers for the "Yes" side in the final televised debate before the vote.[83]
  • Fine Gael "cannot adopt an official party position because members have been afforded a freedom of conscience vote on issues to do with the referendum".[47][46] However, Josepha Madigan, the Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, co-ordinated a campaign for "Yes"-supporting party members, which was formally launched on 21 April 2018 by Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris.[48][49][47] The campaign supported Together for Yes, and some Fine Gael TDs put up posters of their own.[84]
  • The Gaelic Athletic Association reiterated its policy of neutrality on political issues, in response to media reports of various players and managers publicly taking sides.[85]
  • The head imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre supported repeal of the eighth amendment and state-funded abortions in "extraordinary circumstances", but rejected "calls for abortions to be freely available until the end of the first trimester".[86]

Television debates during the referendum campaign

Television debates during the referendum campaign
DateProgrammeChannelModerator"Yes" advocates"No" advocatesNotesRefs
27 AprilThe Late Late ShowRTÉ OneRyan Tubridy Peter Boylan (obstetrician); Mary Favier (GP, Together for Yes) Wendy Grace (journalist); Caroline Simons (lawyer, Love Both) The debate was the last segment of the chat show. Members of the audience also spoke. [87]
14 MayClaire Byrne LiveRTÉ OneClaire Byrne Orla O'Connor (National Women's Council of Ireland), Peter Boylan (obstetrician), Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin leader) Maria Steen (lawyer, Save the Eighth); John Monaghan (obstetrician); Mary Butler (Fianna Fáil TD) There was criticism of boisterous reactions from audience members during the debate. [88]
22 MayPrime TimeRTÉ OneMiriam O'Callaghan Simon Harris (Fine Gael minister); [ Mary Higgins (obstetrician) withdrawn] Peadar Tóibín (Sinn Féin TD); [ Cora Sherlock (Love Both) withdrew] Sherlock was withdrawn against her will by Love Both, Save the 8th and Iona Institute, who wanted the better performing Maria Steen instead. RTÉ denied the request, and Higgins was withdrawn to equalise the number of speakers on both sides. Sinn Féin clarified that Tóibín's views differ from his party's. Audience members contributed to the debate. [89][83][90]
23 MayPat Kenny TonightTV3Pat Kenny Regina Doherty (Fine Gael minister); Colm O'Gorman (Amnesty International Ireland) Rónán Mullen (independent senator); Maria Steen (Iona Institute; Save The 8th) [83]
23 MayThe Tonight ShowTV3Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates Mícheál Martin (Fianna Fáil leader);
Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin leader)
Declan Ganley (businessman); Theresa Lowe (lawyer, former broadcaster) [83]

Opinion and exit polling

When voters were asked how they voted, exit polls showed the following results:

Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Lead
25 May 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/RTÉ (exit poll)3,80069.4%30.6%38.8%
25 May 2018Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times (exit poll)>4,50068%32%36%

When respondents were asked if they would support the amendment, opinion polls showed the following results:

Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead
10–16 May 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post1,01556%27%17%29%
14–15 May 2018Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times1,20044%32%24%12%
3–15 May 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times93552%24%19%28%
18–30 Apr 2018Millward Brown/Sunday Independent1,00345%34%18%[note 1]11%
19–25 Apr 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post[91]1,00053%26%19%27%
5–17 Apr 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times92847%29%21%18%
16–17 Apr 2018Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times[note 2]1,20047%28%20%19%
15–22 Mar 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post1,00056%26%18%30%
6–13 Mar 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times 90049%27%20%22%
1–13 Feb 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times92649%30%21%19%
18–25 Jan 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post[93]1,00360%20%20%40%
25 Jan 2018Ipsos MRBI/Irish TimesN/A56%29%15%27%
4–5 Dec 2017Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times1,20062%26%13%36%

During the course of the referendum campaign some surveys asked if respondents supported the proposed legislation allowing termination for any reason for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The following results were recorded:

Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead
10–16 May 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post1,01552%34%13%[note 3]18%
3–15 May 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times93544%34%22%10%
18–30 Apr 2018Millward Brown/Sunday Independent1,00353%[note 4]32%15%21%
19–25 Apr 2018Red C/Sunday Business Post1,00047%32%21%15%
4–18 Apr 2018Ireland Thinks/Irish Daily Mail1,02646%31%16%15%
5–17 Apr 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times92843%36%21%7%
6–13 Mar 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times 90043%35%22%8%
1–13 Feb 2018Behaviour & Attitudes/The Sunday Times92643%35%22%8%
14–22 Dec 2017Ireland Thinks/Irish Daily Mail1,14453%27%20%26%


Polls opened at 07:00 IST (UTC+1) and closed at 22:00 IST on 25 May 2018. Twelve offshore islands voted the day before, to allow for possible delays delivering ballot boxes to the count centres.[94] Counting began at 09:00 on 26 May. All Irish citizens entered on the electoral register were eligible to vote. A total of 3,229,672 people were on the annual electoral register (as of 15 February 2018) and an additional 118,389 electors were added to the supplementary register by the closing date of 8 May 2018,[95][96][97] an unusually high number of late registrations.[98] Dáil constituencies were used to organise the voting, with the returning officer for each appointed by the city or county council, and results sent to the national returning officer in Dublin. Although a close result had been expected by observers,[99][100] an exit poll conducted by The Irish Times predicted a 68% Yes result,[101] while one conducted by RTÉ predicted a similar Yes result of 69.4%.[102] The day after the vote, Save the 8th campaign conceded defeat.[103]

Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018[104]
Choice Votes %
Yes 1,429,981 66.40
No 723,632 33.60
Valid votes 2,153,613 99.72
Invalid or blank votes 6,042 0.28
Total votes 2,159,655 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 3,367,556 64.13
Results by constituency[104]
Constituency Electorate Turnout (%) Votes Proportion of votes
Yes No Yes No
Carlow–Kilkenny 112,704 61.99% 44,211 25,418 63.50% 36.50%
Cavan–Monaghan 91,602 63.39% 32,115 25,789 55.46% 44.54%
Clare 83,225 64.37% 34,328 19,079 64.28% 35.72%
Cork East 85,643 63.80% 34,941 19,550 64.12% 35.88%
Cork North-Central 84,412 62.45% 33,639 18,908 64.02% 35.98%
Cork North-West 68,830 65.93% 27,194 18,054 60.10% 39.90%
Cork South-Central 87,524 66.73% 40,071 18,138 68.84% 31.16%
Cork South-West 60,356 67.35% 26,147 14,387 64.51% 35.49%
Donegal 118,901 57.06% 32,559 35,091 48.13% 51.87%
Dublin Bay North 108,209 71.60% 57,754 19,573 74.69% 25.31%
Dublin Bay South 78,892 54.94% 33,919 9,928 78.49% 21.51%
Dublin Central 48,002 51.52% 18,863 5,790 76.51% 23.49%
Dublin Fingal 95,926 70.39% 51,840 15,523 76.96% 23.04%
Dublin Mid-West 71,558 67.30% 35,192 12,838 73.27% 26.73%
Dublin North-West 62,270 62.76% 28,477 10,489 73.08% 26.92%
Dublin Rathdown 64,887 70.11% 34,529 10,845 76.10% 23.90%
Dublin South-Central 76,914 59.60% 34,201 11,530 74.79% 25.21%
Dublin South-West 106,588 68.58% 54,642 18,301 74.91% 25.09%
Dublin West 67,138 67.77% 33,595 11,794 74.02% 25.98%
Dún Laoghaire 95,372 68.52% 50,243 14,953 77.06% 22.94%
Galway East 69,631 63.47% 26,525 17,546 60.19% 39.81%
Galway West 107,726 59.90% 42,422 21,906 65.95% 34.05%
Kerry 111,108 62.41% 40,285 28,851 58.27% 41.73%
Kildare North 85,587 63.76% 40,058 14,399 73.56% 26.44%
Kildare South 63,190 61.34% 27,307 11,339 70.66% 29.34%
Laois 63,860 62.01% 24,232 15,264 61.35% 38.65%
Limerick City 77,836 62.01% 32,169 15,941 66.87% 33.13%
Limerick County 67,592 62.45% 24,448 17,644 58.08% 41.92%
Longford–Westmeath 89,665 59.30% 30,876 22,113 58.27% 41.73%
Louth 106,184 65.89% 46,429 23,333 66.55% 33.45%
Mayo 91,377 62.09% 32,287 24,287 57.07% 42.93%
Meath East 67,755 65.61% 30,686 13,652 69.21% 30.79%
Meath West 65,651 62.94% 26,343 14,850 63.95% 36.05%
Offaly 66,120 64.71% 24,781 17,908 58.05% 41.95%
Roscommon–Galway 63,158 65.70% 23,677 17,709 57.21% 42.79%
Sligo–Leitrim 95,954 61.08% 34,685 23,730 59.38% 40.62%
Tipperary 113,546 63.84% 42,731 29,516 59.15% 40.85%
Waterford 83,107 64.30% 37,016 16,296 69.43% 30.57%
Wexford 110,494 66.27% 49,934 23,069 68.40% 31.60%
Wicklow 99,062 74.48% 54,629 18,931 74.26% 25.74%
Total 3,367,556 64.13% 1,429,981 723,632 66.40% 33.60%

Analysis of results

The turnout of voters, at 2,159,655, was the highest thus far in any Irish constitutional referendum. This beat the previous record, which had been held by the 2015 marriage equality referendum, by 209,930 votes.

Results by Region

All four regions voted Yes, ranging from 57.5% Yes for Connacht-Ulster to 75.5% for Dublin.[105]

Regional Results[105]
Region Turnout (%) Votes Proportion of votes
Yes No Yes No
Connacht-Ulster 61.3% 224,270 166,058 57.5% 42.5%
Dublin 65.7% 433,255 140,934 75.5% 24.5%
Leinster (excluding Dublin) 64.7% 399,487 200,276 66.6% 33.4%
Munster 64.0% 372,969 216,364 63.3% 36.7%
Total 64.1% 1,429,981 723,632 66.4% 33.6%
By age

According to exit polls by The Irish Times[106] and by RTÉ,[107] every age group voted Yes, except those aged 65 and over, with the highest Yes vote being from the youngest age groups. The details were:

Age group Yes No
Irish Times RTÉ Irish Times RTÉ
18 to 24 87% 87.6% 13% 12.4%
25 to 34 83% 84.6% 17% 15.4%
35 to 49 74% 72.8% 26% 27.2%
50 to 64 63% 63.7% 37% 36.3%
65 and over 40% 41.3% 60% 58.7%
By gender

According to the exit polls,[106][107] both genders voted Yes, with women doing so somewhat more heavily than men. The details were:

Gender Yes No
Irish Times RTÉ Irish Times RTÉ
Female 70% 72.1% 30% 27.9%
Male 65% 65.9% 35% 34.1%
By urban-rural

According to the exit polls,[106][107] both urban and rural voters voted Yes, with urban voters doing so more heavily than rural ones. The detail were:

Urban-Rural Yes No
Irish Times RTÉ Irish Times RTÉ
Urban 71% 72.3% 29% 27.7%
Rural 60% 63.3% 40% 36.7%

Reactions to the result


Yes side

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "I think what we've seen today really is the culmination of a quiet revolution that's taken place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years. This has been a great exercise in democracy, and the people have spoken. The people have said we want a modern constitution for a modern country, that we trust women and we respect them to make the right decision, the right choices about their own health care."[108]

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "For me, the margin of victory is important, but equally important is that there is no Dublin versus the rest or no urban/rural divide – in virtually every part of the country, people have voted in big numbers to allow the government and the Oireachtas to change Ireland for the better."[108]

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council and co-director of Together for Yes, thanked Yes voters, saying: "This is phenomenal. This was a grassroots, people campaign, and I think what today will show is that this is a people's referendum. Presuming that these exit polls are correct, the public haven't just spoken, this is a resounding roar from Irish people about the horrors of the Eighth and how women should no longer be treated as second-class citizens in our society."[108]

No side

Cora Sherlock, of the LoveBoth campaign, said: "This is a very sad day for Ireland, that people have voted for abortion. We need to remember what they have won. All that is being offered is abortion. There has been no talking about why Irish woman travel, what options could have been put on the table."[108][109]

Declan Ganley tweeted: "I've been thinking about conscientious objection. I will not pay for the killing of Ireland's unborn children, I cannot be a party to it. So there will need to be a way to exempt conscientious objectors taxes from paying for them in any way, shape, or form."[110]

Catholic Bishop Kevin Doran said: "While the Catholic Church is a family, and nobody ever gets struck off, what I'd say to a Catholic who voted Yes is this, if you voted Yes knowing and intending that abortion would be the outcome, then you should consider coming to confession."[111]

United Kingdom

UK Prime Minister Theresa May contacted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and posted to Twitter, saying, "The Irish Referendum yesterday was an impressive show of democracy which delivered a clear and unambiguous result. I congratulate the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign."[112] However, she later reiterated her position that abortion is considered a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and accordingly that the UK government would not intervene.[113] This followed a statement from Arlene Foster, leader of the Northern Ireland's anti-abortion DUP, whose votes are needed to give May's Conservative Government its Parliamentary majority, that the issue should be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly.[113]

But senior Conservatives, such as Commons Health Committee chairperson Sarah Wollaston and education minister Anne Milton, backed calls for a free vote on the issue, while Labour MP Stella Creasy said she would table an amendment on the matter to the Domestic Violence Bill and said that over 150 parliamentarians had expressed support for the change, and Labour's shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti called the issue a test for May's feminism.[113] May's spokesperson refused to say whether Conservative MPs would be given a free vote in such a "hypothetical" situation, but said that there had been free votes on the abortion issue in the past.[113]

Northern Ireland

The result re-opened the debate about the legality of abortion in Northern Ireland. In all constituent countries of the United Kingdom but Northern Ireland, abortion is legal in many circumstances under the Abortion Act 1967. Abortion in Northern Ireland has historically been considered a devolved matter to be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly.[114]

In Belfast, a rally took place advocating for the liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland,[115] where there were calls for the UK government to step in.[116] UK intervention to liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland is opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland and which currently supports the minority Conservative government in the UK.[117]


Challenge to referendum result

The Provisional Referendum Certificate was signed by Barry Ryan, the Referendum Returning Officer, on 28 May 2018, and published in Iris Oifigiúil on 29 May.[120][121] Challenges against the validity of the referendum must be brought within seven days of publication.[121][122]

Three petitions challenging the result were made within the deadline, by Joanna Jordan, Charles Byrne, and Ciarán Tracey.[123] These alleged variously that the Referendum Commission information booklet was biased and that the electoral register was unreliable, with unexplained deletion of older voters' details and failure to delete those of emigrants who were thus able to travel back to vote despite being ineligible.[123] Jordan's unsuccessful petition against the children's rights amendment delayed its enactment from 2012 until 2015. Enactment of the 2015 marriage equality amendment was similarly delayed for three months.[124]

The applications seeking leave to bring judicial review proceedings were heard in the High Court from 26 to 29 June.[125][126][127] Tracey withdrew and leave was refused for another man, Diarmaid McConville, to take over his application.[126] On 20 July, Justice Peter Kelly ruled against the other two applicants, saying they had failed to provide prima facie evidence of anything likely to have changed the result of the vote,[128] but left them a week to challenge this in the Court of Appeal.[129] Costs were awarded against both applicants.[130] Byrne did not appeal,[131] while Jordan's appeal was heard on 17 August.[132]

Separately, on 31 July, the Court of Appeal rejected McConville's appeal against the refusal to allow him to take over Tracey's petition application, but gave him time to apply to the Supreme Court,[133] which on 16 August denied him leave to appeal.[134] On 27 August, the Court of Appeal dismissed Jordan's challenge, with Justice George Birmingham stating that "Jordan's assertions were so entirely devoid of substance that we can only conclude they were made with reckless and irresponsible abandon".[135] Before the 31 August deadline,[135] Jordan applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal; the court decided on 7 September to refuse to hear the appeal,[136][137] thus allowing the amendment to be signed into law by President Higgins on 18 September 2018.[3]

Implementing legislation

Even though the referendum had been carried, abortion remained "illegal in almost all circumstances until the Oireachtas passes legislation providing otherwise", which the Government originally hoped to introduce into the Dáil in the autumn, and to have passed by the end of 2018.[33] However, after the referendum there were calls for the process to be sped up,[138] and health minister Simon Harris said that the bill would be introduced before the summer recess and become law by the autumn.[139] The Irish Times reported on 6 June that the Dáil second stage would begin on 11 July, possibly extending the Dáil term, and that remaining Oireachtas stages would be in September and October.[140] The introduction of legislation was held up until after the processing of the petitions against the referendum result.[136]

Media had speculated before the vote that a narrow Yes majority would encourage No-supporting legislators to obstruct or weaken the legislative provisions compared to the draft published in March.[141] Conversely, media said afterwards that the large majority made such moves unlikely;[142] in particular, Fianna Fáil opponents would not "stand in the way" of the "will of the people".[143]

An updated general scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 was published by the Department of Health on 10 July.[144] The final text was agreed by the cabinet at a meeting on 27 September and published the same day.[145] Its second reading in the Dáil was introduced by minister Simon Harris on 4 October.[146]

On 5 December, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill passed final stages in the Dáil, where it was approved by 90 votes to 15 (with 12 abstentions). On 13 December, Seanad Éireann approved the bill by 27 votes to 5.

On 20 December 2018, President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill into law, officially legalising abortion in Ireland for the first time for non-life threatening reasons.


  1. 18% were undecided and 4% refused to answer.
  2. 62% agreed with the statement that the law needs to change to recognise a woman's right to choose.
    56% agreed that the 12 weeks proposal, while they had "reservations" about it, was a "reasonable compromise" and would be an "improvement on the current situation".
    41% agreed with the statement: "I agree the law needs to be changed, but the proposal for abortion on request up to 12 weeks goes too far."
    40% said that abortion "is wrong and should not be made more widely available".[92]
  3. 13% were undecided and 1% refused to answer.
  4. 53% consists of 42% 'About right' + 11% 'Not far enough', as against 32% 'Too far', with 15% 'Don't know'


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