Taoiseach urges Ireland to trust women in abortion reform bid

The Taoiseach has urged Ireland to show some compassion as he launched a bid to overturn some of the strictest abortion rules in Europe.

Leo Varadkar said next month's repeal referendum could represent a coming of age moment when the nation stops cold-shouldering those in crisis.

Ireland has a near-ban on terminations and nine women travel abroad every day for the procedure.

The Taoiseach drew on the experience of rape and child incest victims during a speech in Dublin.

Minister for Health Simon Harris, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael Campaign Co-ordinator Minister Josepha Madigan during an event organised by members of Fine Gael pressing for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment, at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

He said: "I am calling for a yes vote because I trust women and I trust doctors and instead of fearing the worst I choose to believe the best about us as a nation.

I believe a yes vote will allow us to look our sisters, our friends and our families in the eye when for far too long we have looked away.

"Now is the time to change and to put compassion at the centre of our laws."

Abortion is currently only available when a mother's life is at risk, but not in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest.

Yes to the May 25 referendum would be the latest in a series of social liberalisation measures which has seen divorce and same-sex marriage legalised in Ireland, and Mr Varadkar used past victories for modernisers to characterise those opposed to change as outdated.

He added: "In Ireland in 2018 we still export our problems and import our solutions, and in the Ireland of 2018 we still turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to our sisters, nieces, daughters, colleagues and friends when in need or when in crisis."

The ballot will be on whether to retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution, which means the life of the woman and her unborn child are seen as equal.

Draft legislation to be introduced if the referendum is passed proposes unrestricted abortion access be made available to women who are up to 12 weeks pregnant.

The Taoiseach said the referendum was a once in a generation opportunity.

"In Ireland we spent much of the last few years atoning for historic wrongs that were done to women, but truth be told, we still wrong women today.

The Eighth Amendment does not prevent abortion. Nine women every day travel to other countries to end their pregnancies, often making that journey alone and in secret.

"And three women every day, and the number is growing, order abortion pills over the internet and end their pregnancies at home without medical supervision, counselling, support or advice.

"All the Eighth Amendment does is allow us to sweep it under the carpet, as we did so often on so many issues in the dark days of the past."

Parts of Ireland are becoming increasingly secular, but the Catholic church is among those campaigning for a no vote, those who argue that a baby's life is sacrosanct.

A statement from Save the Eighth campaigners claimed the Taoiseach's position was too extreme, and said he had been unable to unite his governing Fine Gael party around his position.

Mr Varadkar rubbished suggestions reform would see the number of abortions rocket, and claimed those on that side of the argument thought very little of women.

"So, May 25 is a chance for Ireland to change all that and a chance for Ireland to come of age as a nation," he said.

"We should be a country in which we trust women and trust doctors to decide what is right.

"And if this referendum is approved, the Government will introduce a safe, regulated, doctor-led system for the termination of pregnancies in Ireland."

Fine Gael officially launched their Yes campaign at a theatre in Dublin on Saturday.

- PA

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