Movement to liberalise the country’s abortion laws could occur as early as September, senior ministers said yesterday.
It comes as a disagreement emerged between ministers over whether term limits should be included in any move to liberalise abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said that such term limits have to be part of any discussion about changing the law, but others expressed reservations about the workability of that proposal.
The abortion matter is set to dominate the agenda at Cabinet today, with ministers set to discuss how to deal with the damning judgment from the UN over Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.
Last week, the UN called on Ireland to repeal the 1983 Eighth Amendment which gives equal status to the life of an expectant mother and her unborn child.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last week that the Citizen’s Convention would be up and running within six months of the Government taking office, but ministers yesterday said it could be sorted as early as September.
Mr Varadkar clarified that his call for term limits was his personal view rather than the established Fine Gael position.
“That’s my personal view, I’m not advocating it, by the way, just that people who would have that [pro-choice] view,” he said.
Regarding“people who adopt a pro-choice position and believe that abortion should be on request”, Mr Varadkar said: “I think before we even consider going down that route we would have to have a discussion about term limits.”
Other ministers speaking to the Irish Examiner, cautioned against such a move.
“Remember back to the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill debate around term limits and it was made clear that a woman in danger is a woman in danger, whether that be at 12 weeks or 32 weeks. Such a limit could be problematic,” said one minister.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the current laws governing abortions relating to fatal foetal abnormality are “unacceptable”.
He said the legal advice the Government has received is that the issue is a constitutional matter, meaning it would need to be resolved by way of a referendum.
Mr Harris insisted the issue surrounding a decision on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment will be the first item on the agenda for the new citizens’ assembly.
He denied the citizens’ assembly was a stalling tactic. “The current situation is utterly unacceptable,” he said. “This Government will address the issue. It is not up to me or Enda Kenny, it is for the Irish people. It is not for me to dictate the terms of the citizens’ assembly. If we jumped straight to a referendum, it could be very polarised.
“With the citizens’ assembly there will be an informed position.”
Education Minister Richard Bruton said he believes the UN committee will be satisfied that the Government’s commitment to a citizens’ convention is progress, saying “citizens decide our Constitution. So we must, as elected deputies, respect the role of citizens in this area”.
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