Britain's May refuses to relax Northern Ireland abortion rules

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Ireland's prime minister on Saturday hailed the culmination of "a quiet revolution" in what was once one of Europe's most socially conservative countries after a landslide referendum vote to liberalise highly restrictive laws on abortion.

An exit poll for The Irish Times newspaper suggested 70 percent of women and 65 percent of men voted to overturn the ban.

The Together For Yes campaign said the focus is now on ensuring Northern Ireland allows for access to abortion services in that jurisdiction. He called the vote an essential symbol for women's freedom.

Until then, women seeking abortions will still have to travel overseas to undergo the procedure.

Each year, thousands of women - including those who were raped, victims of incest, suffered from fatal fetal abnormality or had other health-related abortions - are believed to have traveled to Britain to seek abortions that were banned at home.

"We are deeply saddened to learn that many Irish people voted against love and life by repealing the 8 amendment", Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life commented. More than 66 per cent of voters wanted an end to the ban.

"I'm the proudest person on the planet here for Ireland, I just am blown away by the fact that I can now stand tall and say that we are a progressive and a modern country and that we respect the rights of all people, regardless of what your beliefs are and your backgrounds are on this issue".

The decisive outcome of the landmark referendum was cast as a historic victory for women's rights.

"You may feel that the country has taken the wrong turn, is no longer a country you recognize", he told those who voted to maintain the abortion ban.

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Friday's referendum follows months of bitter debate between "Yes" and "No" campaigners on whether or not the country's Eighth Amendment - which acknowledges the embryo's right to life "with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother" - should be scrapped.

Left-wing Republican party leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates the "Yes" campaign in Dublin as the results from the referendum begin to come in on Saturday.

Official counting for Friday's referendum on whether or not to liberalize Ireland's abortion laws was still under way, and final results are not expected until Saturday afternoon. He now expects new abortion legislation to come into effect by the end of the year.

Co-director Orla O'Connor said: 'I certainly think that all of our TDs and senators should really consider a special sitting so that it can be progressed through the summer.

"I want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and put no preconditions on the immediate establishment of an Executive".

Following the Irish referendum, Northern Ireland is the only place in the United Kingdom and Ireland - and most of Europe - where terminations are outlawed apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

Halappanavar, who moved to Ireland with her husband Praveen, died of sepsis in Galway in 2012 after being denied an abortion during a protracted miscarriage.

May's minority Conservative government relies on support from MPs from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party for a majority in the British parliament - and the Protestant DUP strongly opposes abortion law reform. Under the law, fetuses in early pregnancy are guaranteed citizenship status and women who have an illegal abortion could face up to 14 years in prison.