Simon Harris seeks tighter reins on revisiting potential 12-week abortion law

Health Minister Simon Harris has risked creating further confusion over the potential post-referendum 12-week abortion law by saying future governments will have to go “above and beyond” existing rules if they want to change the law.

A day after Tánaiste Simon Coveney was criticised for suggesting the law should only be changed by a two-thirds Dáil majority, Mr Harris said other options could be used, such as a new citizens’ assembly or abortion committee.

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings, Mr Harris repeated Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s view that Mr Coveney’s two-thirds barrier suggestion would be unconstitutional and thus could not be introduced.

Mr Harris said the Cabinet has asked attorney general Seamus Woulfe to examine other possible ways to ensure the proposed 12-week law could not be easily changed.

“What the Government will do is ask the attorney general to continue to look at ways Ireland can look at this issue again,” said Mr Harris.

“What the attorney general has been asked to do is examine is there a way to outline that if the Irish people decided they want to revisit areas like this in the future, perhaps it would be the case that it would be above and beyond changing a regular law.

“This is not a decision the Government has taken today, but I think you’ve seen already that when this Government grappled with this very complex issue, it asked a citizens’ assembly for its view, an Oireachtas committee for its view.

“There are ways of achieving an assurance, and I think it’s important the Government reflects on that.”

Government sources said the request for the attorney general to examine ways to make the new law more difficult to change than other legislation is an attempt to give Mr Coveney cover after his two-thirds Dáil majority suggestion.

In addition, it has been noted that despite the possibility of a citizens’ assembly or abortion committee group being used in the future, the sitting government can still ignore any recommendation they make.

The suggestion the 12-weeks legislation may be treated differently to other laws is likely to lead to pro-life group claims politicians cannot be trusted to oversee abortion laws, as other groups will be involved.

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