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Ireland’s overwhelming vote to ease restrictions on abortion has sent shockwaves across the island and in Britain, where it has prompted calls for Northern Ireland to follow suit.

Friday’s referendum saw just more than two-thirds of Irish voters support repealing the country’s constitutional ban on abortion, a result that stunned many observers and pollsters who expected a far closer result. All but one of the country’s 40 constituencies voted in favour of repeal including traditionally conservative rural counties where support came close to 60 per cent. Exit polls also showed that almost every age group backed repeal, with the highest percentage of support coming from voters between the ages of 18 and 24, who voted 88 per cent in favour of dropping the constitutional ban.

“I think what we’ve seen today really is the culmination of a quiet revolution that’s taken place in Ireland for the past 10 or 20 years,” Ireland’s Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar said Saturday after the results were announced. “This has been a great exercise in democracy and the people have spoken.”

Mr. Varadkar said the government will move quickly to introduce legislation that will allow the country’s health service to provide unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. Under the current constitutional ban, abortions have only been allowed if the woman’s life was at risk.

The scale of the referendum result has put pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May to push through changes to Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws. But the issue is complicated by tricky politics, leaving most analysts doubting the province will make changes anytime soon.

“Northern Ireland is a very different kind of society,” said Theresa Reidy, a political scientist at University College Cork in Ireland. “This will put pressure in Northern Ireland on the debate but you can’t translate what happened in the Republic to what happens in Northern Ireland.”

She added that the province’s long history of sectarian violence known as the Troubles has created a divisive political system that has difficulty getting to issues beyond Catholics versus Protestants. “The Northern Ireland conflict dynamic means that every policy issue is seen through the prism of the two communities,” she said, adding that this makes political compromise and traditional governing difficult.

Abortion has been banned in Northern Ireland for decades and it is only allowed in cases where the mother’s life or mental health is at risk. It has the toughest laws on abortion in the United Kingdom, and only Malta has a stricter ban in Western Europe. As a result, hundreds of women travel to England every year for the procedure or buy drugs illegally online.

The issue is considered a devolved matter in Britain, which means the Northern Ireland assembly is responsible for enacting any law on abortion. The British government legalized abortion in England in 1967 and the Scottish and Welsh assemblies later adopted similar laws. Northern Ireland refused.

However, the Northern Ireland government fell apart last year after months of political intrigue and the assembly hasn’t met since January, 2017. The province is effectively run out of London and members of Parliament at Westminster are now calling on Ms. May to seize the opportunity to reform Northern Ireland’s abortion law.

On Saturday, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, welcomed the outcome of the Irish vote and called for changes in the north: “A historic and great day for Ireland and a hopeful one for Northern Ireland. That hope must be met,” she said on Twitter.

Other MPs from all parties have begun pushing for a vote in parliament on the issue and on Saturday the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, held up a sign after the vote count that said: “The North is next.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill, leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, hold up a placard as they celebrate the result of yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018.CLODAGH KILCOYNE/Reuters

Women’s rights advocates echoed these calls. “While the government can say that abortion is a devolved issue, human rights are not, and the collapse of the [Northern Ireland] assembly means that the power to right this wrong lies solely in Westminster,” said Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a national charity that provides abortion services. “It is time for change across the whole island of Ireland.”

Ms. May hasn’t commented on the issue directly, saying only that she congratulated “the Irish people on their decision.” However, few expect her to force through any change given the political reality she faces. Ms. May’s minority government depends on 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to remain in power. The DUP is the largest Protestant-backed party in Northern Ireland and it is firmly against any liberalization of abortion laws.

“Friday’s referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland, but we obviously take note of issues impacting upon our nearest neighbour,” DUP Leader Arlene Foster said in a statement. “The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues.”

Ian Paisley, a DUP MP, went further, saying on Saturday that Northern Ireland “should not be bullied into accepting abortion on demand.” On abortion, he added, “Northern Ireland has had a settled cross-party view on this for decades. Nothing suggests it has changed.”

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