Cabinet clears way for vote on abortion

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and other ministers expressed deep concerns as to the proposed legalising of abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy during a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris and Katherine Zappone announce abortion referendum.

The Government agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution that will ask people to repeal article 40.3.3 and replace it with a provision to enable the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

Friday, May 25, is seen as the most like day for polling.

“We already have abortion in Ireland but it is unsafe and unlawful...we can no longer export our problems,”said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after the meeting.

Mr Varadkar said he supports the proposal being put and also has moved in his own view and said he supports the recommendation to permit abortions in all cases up to 12 weeks.

The people will be asked that to approve a provision may be made to regulate the termation of pregancy, the Taoiseach said.

He said he will advocate for a Yes vote, saying his position on abortion has changed. He said that, if the referendum is passed, abortion in Ireland will become “legal, safe, and rare.”

“In relation to the 12 weeks, people will have to make up their own minds based on the evidence,” he said.

After an four-hour meeting, the Cabinet formally agreed to allow Minister for Health Simon Harris to draft a referendum bill to pave the way for a public vote in May or June.

Mr Harris will also bring forward a general scheme of a bill to allow for abortions up to 12 weeks but the finalised text will not be made known until after the referendum.

Mr Varadkar said abortions after 12 weeks of gestation will only occur in rare circumstances, such as fatal foetal abnormalities and where there is a threat to the health or life of the mother.

At Cabinet, Mr Coveney told colleagues he can not support recommendation of abortion for 12 weeks without restriction.

However, he will support repeal and all other committee recommendations He is understood to have told last night’s lengthy Cabinet meeting that while he is broadly in favour of liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws he feels the proposed 12-week law goes too far.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Coveney said: “The status quo of how women are treated in crisis pregnancy cannot remain. I am united with my Cabinet colleagues in agreeing to repeal the 8th amendment and allow enabling legislation.

"While there are differing viewpoint on the content of that legislation, particularly on 12 weeks access unrestricted, that is a matter for the Oireachtas to now debate. My views are clear on that and I expressed them at Cabinet.”

At Cabinet, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and Transport Minister Shane Ross queried the need for replacing the Eighth Amendment but said they were happy to accept the legal advice from the Attorney General Seamus Wolfe.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin welcomed the decision to proceed with a referendum but has said Government needs to provide clear rationale for the departure from the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee.

Meanwhile, wards of court are to be abolished and the rights of the disabled are to be greatly enhanced as the Government today is set to approve ratification of the United Nations Convention on disabilities.

Mr Coveney is to bring a memorandum, seen by the Irish Examiner, seeking Government approval to sign up to the Convention.

Ireland is the only outstanding EU country to comply with the Convention which seeks to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.

Independent Alliance Disability Minister Finian McGrath, who sits at Cabinet, has been seeking Government support for this move since entering office.

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