NEW YORK — At Thursday’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the event concluded with a special prayer for the nation of Ireland as they headed to the polls the next day to vote on whether they would remove the country’s strong pro-life protections in their constitution.

By Saturday morning, many of those same attendees were issuing statements of despair and heartbreak after 66.4 percent of Irish citizens opted to liberalize abortion law, while 33.6 percent voted against.

“The result of today’s referendum is a profound tragedy for the Irish people and the entire world,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement.

“While other Western nations including the United States acquiesced to the extreme abortion lobby, Ireland has been a shining beacon of hope for its strong defense of unborn children and their mothers,” she said.

Jeanne Mancini, head of the March for Life, echoed those sentiments in a statement saying, “Americans know from experience that there will be many grave and irreversible consequences to this decision, including the loss of precious lives.”

“We grieve for the great loss this beautiful country will endure and we pray that they find a way to reverse this unfortunate decision,” she added.

While pro-life organizers in Ireland were optimistic that the vote would be close and that they could pull off a surprise upset, results from an exit poll carried out by national broadcaster RTÉ project that nearly 70 percent voted in favor of scrapping the country’s eighth amendment, which grants the unborn child the same rights as the mother.

Official vote counting is currently underway, and final results are anticipated on Saturday evening.

Ashley McGuire, a Senior Fellow at The Catholic Association, said “the Repeal the 8th Campaign was a classic example of ideological colonization.”

“It was imported and funded by extreme, pro-abortion special interest groups from outside of Ireland who could not tolerate the reality that Ireland proved that women don’t need abortion to flourish and thrive,” said McGuire.

Ireland has long had some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the western world and has been long-targeted by abortion rights activists, once being dubbed the “the jewel in the crown of the pro-life movement” by a lawyer from Planned Parenthood.

Earlier this year, a group of leading American pro-life organizations hand-delivered a letter to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar while he was in the United States urging him not to support changes to the country’s abortion laws.

In an interview with Crux, Maria McFadden Maffucci, president of the Human Life Review foundation, described the polling numbers as “shattering.”

“Having witnessed the mighty efforts of the Save the 8th campaign in Ireland, I had real hope,” she said.

“Rather than the touted step forward, it is a step back in time,” Maffucci said. “We know what devastation legalized abortion has wrought in the U.S. — millions of unborn children dead, millions of mothers, father and siblings wounded, and an increase in the societal ills it was supposed to ameliorate, such as child abuse, broken families, and poverty.”

“Ireland could have led the world by learning from history, instead of being doomed to repeat it,” she said.