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Irish voters overwhelmingly repeal ban on abortion

Last Updated May 26, 2018 2:11 PM EDT

DUBLIN -- Irish voters have overwhelmingly supported repealing their country's constitutional ban on abortions and having parliament enact laws that reflect the popular vote, final results from a referendum show. Elections official Barry Ryan said more than 1.4 million voters, or 66 percent of those who cast valid ballots, favored repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution while roughly 724,000 wanted to keep the abortion ban in place.

The outcome was a historic victory for women's rights in a traditionally Catholic country. The size of the win exceeded expectations and will make it much easier for Irish women to obtain abortions legally for the first time. It will also make it easier for the government to claim a mandate for more liberal laws when the divisive issue goes to parliament later this year.

Voters selected "yes" or "no" on the question of repealing Ireland's Eighth 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. 

On Saturday, the prime minister of Ireland said the passage of a referendum paving the way for legalized abortions is a historic day for his country and a great act of democracy. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said -- after official results showed more than two-thirds of voters backed repealing Ireland's constitutional abortion ban -- that he wants to make sure there are fewer crisis pregnancies and better sex education in schools going forward. 

"I said in recent days that this was a once in a generation vote. Today I believe we have voted for the next generation," said Varadkar, who supported repeal and said his government will move quickly to establish new legislation to govern legal abortions.

"The wrenching pain of decades of mistreatment of Irish women cannot be unlived," he added. "However, today we have ensured that it does not have to be lived again."

Earlier, he called the apparent victory "the culmination of a quiet revolution" that has been unfolding in the past 10 to 20 years.

There had 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.

Emily Faulkner, an American pro-life campaigner, had said before the official results were revealed that even if Ireland voted to legalize abortion, "that will never stop our fight. That will just make us fight harder against abortion."

"Ireland definitely is a beacon for the rest of the world," said Faulkner.

Ireland Votes In Favour of Law Reform In Abortion Referendum

Supporters gather at Dublin Castle for the result Irish referendum result on the 8th amendment concerning the country's abortion laws on May 26, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland has voted in favour of overturning the abortion ban as early results point to a "resounding" victory for the yeas campaign.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

CBS News' Jonathan Vigliotti contributed to this report.