Abortion vote: What happens next?

While the Supreme Court decision has removed a key stumbling block in the way of the abortion referendum, a series of hurdles still need to be overcome before a potential May 25 vote.

In response to the decision that the constitutional rights of the unborn do not extend past the right to life, a special Cabinet meeting will take place at 10am today.

Ministers will agree to officially sign off on the referendum bill, which will contain the exact referendum wording and what its implications are for the constitution.

The referendum bill will need to be debated in the Dáil and Seanad, and passed by both Houses by the end of this month, in order to allow for a May 25 vote.

Before this happens, the Oireachtas business committee will have to meet in private at 1pm today to agree on whether to begin this debate this evening, tomorrow, or on the Dáil’s return after the St Patrick’s Day festivities.

In tandem with the referendum bill’s publication today, Health Minister Simon Harris will publish a health policy paper outlining what the likely 12-week law will be should the referendum pass.

This document will be released tomorrow in order to allow TDs to have all information while debating the referendum bill. The Government hopes this will calm concerns over what is to come.

The publication of both the referendum bill and the health policy paper means that the Government will now be allowed to set in train the work of the Referendum Commission, a chair of which will be appointed in the coming days.

The commission is designed to ensure fairness during the referendum campaign, and will be tasked with organising the practical steps needed during the build-up to the referendum.

The referendum bill will also contain a reference to an early summer vote date, saying it can be allowed for at any point between 30 and 90 days of the referendum bill being agreed.

While May 25 is the date expected for the vote, it is not currently mentioned in the referendum bill — a sign that, while a step closer, the May referendum date is still not a certainty.

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