Defying all expectations of a close contest, exit polls in Ireland predicted that the nation voted overwhelmingly on Friday in favor of repealing a near-total ban on abortion in a referendum.

As the ballots were counted Saturday, tallies from around the country seemed to confirm the accuracy of those surveys, conducted outside of polling stations the day before by the country’s leading newspaper, the Irish Times, and its state broadcaster, RTÉ. Both exit polls found that close to 70 percent of the electorate had supported lifting the ban.

If confirmed by the final count, expected Saturday evening, the result indicated by the exit polls — with margins of error of just 1.5 and 1.6 percent — would mean the immediate repeal of the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s constitution, which has, since 1983, prohibited the government from legalizing abortion in any circumstance — even in cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormality.

The referendum result would appear to indicate a sea change in Irish attitudes toward women’s rights in the intervening 35 years since the ban on abortion was enshrined in Ireland’s constitution, with the support of 67 percent of the nation’s voters in 1983.

News of the exit polls and the preliminary vote count stunned and delighted supporters of abortion rights, who had been braced for disappointment despite surveys that showed broad support for the government’s proposal to repeal the amendment and introduce legislation that would permit Irish women to have abortions up to 12 weeks after conception.

At the end of an emotional campaign, marked by personal accounts of the pain and suffering caused by the abortion ban, many Irish people reported crying tears of joy at the apparent revelation that the repressive Ireland they had grown up in was, as one put it simply, “dead.”

The account of one such woman, Saoirse Long — who described, on YouTube and Irish television, her difficult journey to England to have an abortion — was an emblematic moment in the campaign, according to Naomi O’Leary, a journalist whose Irish Passport podcast is an essential guide to a rapidly changing Ireland.

The joy for many “yes” voters was tempered by memories of women whose lives were damaged or cut short by the ban — particularly Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died in 2012 because doctors in the west of Ireland had refused to perform an abortion to save her life during a three-day miscarriage. A shrine dedicated to her sprang up in Dublin on Friday, adorned with flowers and messages from those who voted “yes” to the proposed repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Ireland’s transformation into a more pluralistic society in recent years was also an important factor in the result. The referendum on abortion rights, prompted in large part by a wave of outrage over the death of Halappanavar, an immigrant, was called by the son of another, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to the state broadcaster on Saturday, Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, called the vote, “a culmination of a quiet revolution that’s been taking place in Ireland.”

“It seems it is going to be a greater than two-to-one majority,” Varadkar added. “A majority of men and women, almost all age groups, almost all social classes, and perhaps every constituency in the country, and that says to me that we are a nation that’s not divided, we are actually a nation that is united, that we want to make this change.”

As the result became clear, several campaigners suggested that the next phase in their struggle would be an effort to extend abortion rights to northern Ireland, where political leaders, in thrall to old-fashioned ideas of Christianity, also appear out of step with a changing population.

Update: May 26, 2018, 11:35 a.m. EDT
This report was revised as ballots were counted across Ireland and seemed to confirm exit poll predictions.

Top photo: Supporters of abortion rights in Dublin laid flowers beneath a mural dedicated to the memory of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who died during a miscarriage in the west of Ireland in 2012 because doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy to save her life.