On 25 May, the people of Ireland will vote on whether to relax their harsh abortion laws. We talk to some of the thousands of women who’ve been galvanised by the chance of a lifetime

Social change used to come slowly in Ireland. Now, it cannot seem to come fast enough. Three years ago this month, the Republic voted in favour of same-sex marriage – and became the first country in the world to do so. A year later, Leo Varadkar, who was a number of firsts rolled into one, became taoiseach. At 38, he was the country’s youngest ever prime minister, the first from an ethnic minority background and the first to have come out as gay. Now, voters are about to go to the polls to have their say on arguably the most bitterly and repeatedly contested issue in modern Ireland: abortion. This is the sixth referendum on the subject in the past 35 years. But while previous votes were about small, esoteric changes to the existing law, this time the Irish people will decide whether to liberalise, once and for all, one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the world, or to keep the status quo.

Voters will be asked on 25 May if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which gives unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, in effect enshrining a ban on abortion in Ireland’s constitution and making it the sole western democracy to do so. It is only since 2013 that terminations have been allowed in cases where the mother’s life is in danger and currently the penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is up to 14 years in prison.

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