Latest: Love Both: No vote will protect unborn children with Down syndrome; Taoiseach condemns poster images

Update: 2.20pm: Campaigners have claimed a No vote in Ireland’s abortion referendum will protect unborn children with Down syndrome – despite Government assurances that disability will not be grounds to end pregnancy.

The Love Both campaign, which is calling for people to vote against repealing the eighth amendment on May 25, launched a video on Tuesday featuring 23-year-old Conor O’Dowd, who has Down syndrome.

The launch came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was “wrong” for the group to use children with the condition in campaign posters.

He said the posters, which have also been criticised by Minister for Health Simon Harris, were an attempt to “muddy the waters” and it was clear in proposed legislation that disability would not be grounds for an abortion.

But Cora Sherlock, from the Love Both campaign, said: “Yesterday Simon Harris said that the Government ‘specifically excluded disability’ as a grounds for abortion in the proposed legislation, but this is not correct.

The reality is that there is no such exclusion in the bill, specific or otherwise.

The campaign video shows Mr O’Dowd, from Co Louth, saying: “I love my life. Please save babies with Down syndrome.”

Earlier: Taoiseach rules out referendum re-run if public votes against repealing 8th Amendment

Update: 12pm Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has specifically ruled out re-running the abortion referendum "for the foreseable future" if the public votes against plans to repeal the Eighth Amendment on Friday week, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Speaking to reporters during an early morning canvass in Dublin city centre, Mr Varadkar said despite his anger over the fact the jail sentence for taking abortion pills "worse than the penalty for rape", he will not push for a second referendum if the May 25 vote fails to pass.

Simon Harris, Josepha Madigan and Leo Varadkar speak to the media outside Government Buildings following a commuter canvass in Dublin's city centre today. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

"If the referendum is defeated the Government will accept that decision and the law will remain as it is. I wouldn't be happy, but I'm a democrat," he said, before responding when asked if he would seek a second referendum.

No, not in the foreseable future, not under this Government or under this Dáil.

The comment is likely to be seen as a bid to raise the stakes in the Friday May 25 referendum, which is now just nine days away and is continuing to be too close to call with both sides receiving significant public backing.

Meanwhile, speaking during the same event, Mr Varadkar urged people to vote yes on May 25, saying if they do not then women who are currently taking abortion pills could still be liable to a 14 year prison sentence.

Mr Varadkar said the penalty - which is allowed for under existing laws - is worse than that given to people convicted of rape, and that this and other reasons are why he is seeking to remove the eighth amendment.

"It [the 14 year jail sentence] could be enforced into the future, there have been cases in Northern Ireland of women prosecuted for taking the abortion pill and sadly if the law remains the same that remains only a matter of time here.

"The 14 year penalty is very severe, the penalty for taking an abortion pill is worse than the penalty for rape, believe it or not, but that actually has to be that way because the eighth amendment says the right to life of the foetus is equal to the life of the grown woman.

"So therefore the penalty has to match that, and if we do not delete the eighth amendment we will not be able to remove the 14 year penalty," he said.

Mr Varadkar also rejected suggestions some people could use the Friday May 25 vote to hit back at the Government for issues unrelated to the abortion debate, saying "it's not a vote on me or on the Government".

Asked if he has done enough on the campaign to date, he added:

"I'm doing loads, it's a busy job and lots of other things on the agenda, but it's [the referendum] happening, it's happening next Friday.

"Certainly I'm campaigning nearly every other day, any time I can find time."

Leo Varadkar during a commuter canvass in Dublin's city centre by Fine Gael members supporting repeal of the 8th Amendment today. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Earlier: Taoiseach condemns use of Down Syndrome images in abortion referendum

Update: 10.44am The Taoiseach has branded the use of children with Down Syndrome in posters for the abortion referendum as “wrong”.

Leo Varadkar criticised the posters, published by those campaigning for a No vote in the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, as he canvassed commuters in Dublin today.

He said: “I think it’s wrong because we have made it very clear in the proposed legislation that disability will not be grounds to end a pregnancy.

“I think it’s one of a number of attempts by the No campaign to muddy the waters and create confusion.”

The use of Down Syndrome children has also been criticised by Minister for Health Simon Harris, who joined Mr Varadkar as he walked through Dublin on Tuesday morning along with Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan.

The ministers got a mostly positive reaction as they campaigned for a Yes vote ahead of the referendum next Friday.

Earlier: Minister accuses No side of scaremongering in abortion referendum

7am: The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has accused the 'No' campaign of scaremongering in the abortion referendum.

Pro-life campaigners have claimed the proposed legislation which would be introduced should the Eight Amendment be repealed is even more liberal than the system in the UK.

Mr Flanagan has also said the notion that politicians cannot be trusted on the issue is a dangerous one.

He saidthe proposed regime here wouldn't be as liberal as the UK, which allows for abortion up to 24 weeks.

"I reject an element of scaremongering on this issue with particular reference to the situation in Britain and Ireland," he said.

"Any termination after 12 weeks will be in exceptional and really strictly controlled and narrowed circumstances.

It is not true to say that the situation here in Ireland will be any more liberal than that across the water.

Yesterday, Minister for Health Simon Harris was highly critical of a LoveBoth poster showing a girl with Down Syndrome and said that people with the disability should not feature in the debate.

Mr Harris said disability will not be a ground for having an abortion if the Eighth Amendment is repealed and new laws are introduced.

"I think it's very upsetting to say to people with Down Syndrome in Ireland that you've only been born in Ireland because of the Eighth Amendment,"he said.

LoveBoth spokesperson Cora Sherlock described the reaction as "fake outrage" and criticised Senator Aodhán Ó'Riordáin and TD Lisa Chambers who had spoken of their disapproval of the poster.

"The fake outrage by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Lisa Chambers is another sign of the reluctance of those pushing for repeal to address this issue in any serious way," she said.

A father whose daughter, Grace, featured in the LoveBoth poster released a video last night in response to criticism of the posters and discussed statistics from the UK of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

- Digital Desk

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