Ireland abortion referendum: Polls close in historic vote to repeal ban

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Exit polls project voters in Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws. It would mark a major shift for a country long dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Months of divisive campaigning sparked a record turnout at some polling sites. 

Voters selected "yes" or "no" on the question of repealing Ireland's 8th Amendment, which banned all abortions except when a mother's life is at risk. In Europe, only Malta and Poland have similar laws. 

Among those casting their ballots were thousands of returning expats like Sorcha Lowry who flew in from New York. 

"I knew I had to spend this money that I didn't have," she said. 

Ireland adopted the ban in 1983, but support has waned as the country has grown more liberal, legalizing divorce and gay marriage. A poll by the Irish Times earlier this week gave the pro-abortion rights campaign a 12-point lead. Exit polls showed the repeal camp projected to win in a landslide.

"Ireland definitely is a beacon for the rest of the world," said Emily Faulkner, an American pro-life campaigner. Faulkner flew in not to vote, but to join the anti-abortion rights campaign. 

Faulkner said that even if Ireland votes to legalize abortion, "that will never stop our fight. That will just make us fight harder against abortion."

There has been concern over foreign influence on the vote after revelations of meddling in the U.S. election. Earlier this month, Facebook and Google banned ads from campaign groups outside Ireland.

Today's vote is seen as a referendum on the future direction of the nation. Voter turnout was as high as 70 percent in some areas. The official results will be released on Saturday.