Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced a referendum on abortion will take place in late May and that, if it is passed along with follow-up legislation, terminations will become “safe, legal, and rare”.
Cabinet has agreed to hold the referendum in late May and to ask voters whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which protects the life of the unborn.
Mr Varadkar said the issue is not “black and white”, that the current regime stigmatised people, and the process being proposed would “remove the effective ban” on abortions.
The draft wording being considered for the landmark vote will ask voters whether they want to delete article 43.3 of the Constitution and back a clause that will say “provision may be made by law for the regulation of the termination of pregnancy.”
Mr Varadkar was set to brief leaders of the opposition last night on the attorney general’s advice for Cabinet on the matter while a summary of this will also be published today.
The Taoiseach said it would be a difficult decision for the Irish people to make, that there was a need for respectful debate and that his views had evolved.
Around 2,000 women each year took abortion pills, he said, and this was sure to result in another tragedy and a women losing her life.
Mr Varadkar said that the follow-up legislation, if voters repeal the Eighth Amendment, would be published and debated at a later stage.
As recommended by a committee, this will propose that abortions without restriction be allowed for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
He stressed though that there would be “restrictions” and that abortion pills would not be available on demand, but only by a doctor.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government and the changes would not limit the power of courts in this area. However, anybody who wants change must first repeal the Eighth Amendment, he stressed.
“It is time for the people of Ireland to have their say on this,” said Mr Harris.
Mr Varadkar also said the vote was not about sending a message abroad and that it was about Irish voters making a compassionate decision.
The National Women’s Council welcomed the formal Government commitment to hold the referendum on the Eighth Amendment and to draft legislation in line with the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee.
Director Orla O’Connor said: “This decision is the result of a growing understanding that the Eighth Amendment is a fundamental barrier to ensuring women and girls access to the healthcare services they need.
“It is an acknowledgement that the Constitution is no place for meeting the complexities of women’s needs in pregnancy and that we must allow doctors to apply best medical practice and care for all of their patients in this country without fear of prosecution.”
Labour, though, questioned why the Government had gone beyond original recommendations from the committee and, instead of going for ‘repeal simpicitor’, was enabling the Oireachtas in its proposal to decide on future laws.
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