Cabinet concern at allowing abortion up to 12 weeks

There are concerns in the Cabinet about allowing abortion up to 12 weeks, as recommended by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

“That is the most challenging element,” said one minister. “While it is a straightforward way of dealing with it as an issue legally, that will cause most concern at Cabinet, from a political perspective.”

The Irish Examiner has learned that the most likely date for a referendum is Friday, May 25, should the Cabinet agree to put the question to the people.

The committee’s report, which was published before Christmas, will be discussed by the Cabinet for the first time when it gathers on Wednesday.

While Health Minister Simon Harris will recommend to the Cabinet that abortion up to 12 weeks should be legalised, several other Cabinet ministers, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have expressed their “deep discomfort” with such a suggestion.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Harris said the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment “should be taken seriously and acted upon”.

“I will be supporting,” he said. “I have come on my own journey. I cannot ignore that abortion is a reality for women in this country. Irish women go abroad and women access the abortion pill in an unregulated fashion in Ireland.

“My own, personal view is that we should legislate along the lines of what the committee is recommending.

“My own view is that the committee’s report should be taken very seriously and acted upon.

“As minister for health, and as a Government, our job is to put the question.”

Mr Harris and his officials have been developing various legal possibilities, since Leo Varadkar has become Taoiseach, and have been anticipating whatever scenarios the committee could have recommended.

Mr Harris said he was aware of concerns within Cabinet, but he could not say if individual ministers would campaign against a motion to repeal.

However, one senior Government source said the committee’s report gave the Cabinet a huge amount of political cover.

“The benefit of the report is that it is all-party and we would be loath to deviate from it,” a source said.

“Once we deviate, it becomes our problem, but if we stick to the report, there is political cover.”

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