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The Irish Times newspaper will publish an exit poll some time after polls close at 2100 GMT and RTE will publish theirs at 2230 GMT.

The polls are open as the nation votes in a referendum to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment.

Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the small Social Democrats party, said the polls strongly indicate "voters have taken on board the clear message that the constitutional ban harms women" and must be removed from the constitution.

Ireland's eighth amendment was adopted in a national referendum in 1983, and the difference between that result and this one suggests profound transformations of the once-solidly Catholic country over the last 35 years. "I've a family myself and I think it's really important", said John Devlin, a marketing worker in his 50s voting No near Dublin's city centre. "I'm very emotional about this", she said, outside a polling station opposite Dublin's cathedral.

But Savethe8th's John McGuirk said people must decide "whether or not we're going to have a liberal abortion regime in Ireland". A woman would seek a abortion from a doctor or other medical professional, who would have a legal obligation to discuss the woman's options with her. Many of these groups are supported from overseas, and they often align themselves with the Catholic Church. The Irish people, not wanting to follow suit, successfully led a campaign to amend the Constitution, Section 8, and it was put on an election ballot. She tweeted: "Based on the exit poll, a historic & great day for Ireland, & a hopeful one for Northern Ireland".

"The heart of our Christian faith is that God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and that he took on the human condition", remarked O'Domhnaill. The turnout for Friday's vote may top the gay marriage referendum, RTE reported.

It read: '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 gave equal rights to the mother and the unborn, but did not ban abortion.

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But across the city, Finbar O'Regan, 50, said he wanted a "good, strong No vote".

Ireland expected the higher-than-usual voter turnout to continue into the evening on Friday as Irish citizens headed to ballot boxes in droves and women living overseas returned to their home country to weigh in on a measure that would repeal the Eight Amendement of the Irish Constitution, which bans abortion unless a pregnant woman's life is at risk. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in favour of change, has called the referendum a "once in a generation decision".

But in the small town of Kilcullen, some 50 kilometres (32 miles) southwest of Dublin, voter Sean Murphy said: "I don't see any reason to change from the position we are in at the moment".

Yesterday, nine Irish women will have travelled to England to terminate a pregnancy.

The counting of votes will begin on Saturday morning local time (Saturday night NZT), with a result expected early on Saturday evening (Sunday morning NZT).

On May 25 2018, Ireland has the opportunity to repeal the country's abortion law and the Eighth Amendment, to allow the government to legislate terminations. Two-thirds of voters approved it, declaring that a woman and a preborn child have a right to life.


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