Watch: Government publishes Bill containing exact proposed wording of abortion referendum

The Government has formally published the referendum bill containing the exact proposed wording of the abortion referendum, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The Bill gives a detailed breakdown of the planned 12-week abortion access law it wants to introduce if the eighth amendment is repealed

The two documents, which can be read at www.oireachtas.ie, www.health.gov.ie and www.irishexaminer.com, were published by Health Minister Simon Harris this morning as the Dáil began debating whether to sign off on the referendum plan.

As previously reported by the Irish Examiner, the five-page referendum bill - officially called the 36th amendment of the constitution bill 2018 - formally requests that the referendum on the eighth amendment be allowed to take place.

It says that should the Dáil and Seanad as widely expected agree to hold a referendum, the public will be asked to repeal article 40.3.3 of the constitution and replace it with the following 13 word sentence:

"Provision may be made in law for regulation of termination of a pregnancy."

The referendum bill does not contain the proposed referendum date of May 25, as no date can be officially put forward until the bill is formally signed off on by the Dáil, Seanad and President Michael D Higgins, at which point a polling date will be announced.

This is because a referendum date can only be agreed when the bill is signed off on, as it is only allowed between 30 and 90 days of this date.

The referendum bill is being published in tandem with a health policy paper outlining the main points of the Government's proposed 12 week abortion access law it wants to introduce should the referendum be passed.

This second document - which has been widely leaked in recent days and was reported by the Irish Examiner on Wednesday - is not at this stage as legal proposal, as the 12 week proposal remains unconstitutional unless the referendum is passed and the eighth amendment is removed.

However, it does give a detailed breakdown of the Government's intentions should the referendum pass, an issue Mr Harris has said is important in order to allow for full transparency during the Dáil and Seanad referendum bill debates.

The 21 points of the health policy paper is based almost entirely on the findings and recommendations of the cross-party Oireachtas committee on the future of the eighth amendment which published its judgement in December, and is detailed below in full. It includes:

* Abortions to be provided on the grounds of risk to health and life

* Physical and mental health risks will be treated the same

* a likely two-to-three day abortion request cooling off period

* abortion being allowed up to 12 weeks "without specific indication" as part of a medical practitioner-led service

* a medical practitioner conscientious objection clause

* guarantees that an abortion will only be allowed after sign-off by two doctors. The only change to this is that one doctor can decide on whether to allow an abortion to take place in emergency cases

* Abortions should be notified to the Health Minister of the day and certified by the relevant doctor or medical practitioner

* abortions legalised in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, including cases which will lead to the loss of life of the baby shortly after birth

* a woman can seek a formal review of a refusal to allow her to have an abortion

* decriminalising abortion for women seeking abortions, although doctors who perform abortions outside of the legal stipulations can still be prosecuted

* no blockage on the right of a woman to travel or seek information on abortion, in keeping with existing laws

* guarantees the Government must report to the Dáil once a year as to the workability of the new abortion regime

* and that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, a law introduced in 2013 after the death of Savita Halappanavar which has been criticised by some for failing to adequately address the abortion debate, will be repealed

The referendum bill can be read here:

http://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/bills/2018/2918/b2918d.pdf

The 12 week health policy paper can be read at http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Policy-paper-approved-by-Goverment-8-March-2018.pdf


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