We can no longer tolerate a law which denies care to women: Harris

We can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives, the health minister has told the Dáil.

We can no longer tolerate a law which denies care and understanding to women who are our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our wives, the health minister has told the Dáil.

Opening a Dáil debate on the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on abortion, Simon Harris said Ireland is now coming face-to-face with its past.

Detailing the 3,265 Irish women who travelled to the UK for an abortion in 2016, including the 36 from Carlow, 38 from Mayo, the 69 women from Tipperary, 85 from Wicklow, 241 from Cork, and 1,175 women from Dublin, Mr Harris said these were “not faceless women”.

“They are our friends and neighbours, sisters, cousins, mothers, aunts, wives. Each woman is dealing with her own personal situation and making what is a deeply difficult decision,” he said,

Mr Harris is now working with his chief medical officer, officials, and the attorney general to consider how best to “translate” the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee report into legislation.

The committee, chaired by Senator Catherine Noone, recommended a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation.

Mr Harris, who is tasked with drafting the wording of an abortion referendum and legislation around what would replace it, said: “It is my intention that in the event of a referendum as much information as possible would be available to people.”

Mr Harris, who was born three years after the 1983 referendum on the Eighth Amendment, said he never imagined he would be the minister responsible for a referendum on its repeal.

“Ultimately, there is always a deeply personal, private story behind each individual case which I believe is a matter for a woman and her doctor. I believe the Irish people trust women and they trust doctors to make these difficult decisions.

“Women become pregnant and it is a joyous thing for many. But it is a terrifying thing for some and a tragic thing for others. Irish women are driven to find their own solutions. Sometimes they put themselves at risk in doing so. As things stand they are often left without help, advice or support at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives,” Mr Harris said, adding he hopes as a country we will no longer tolerate this.

He said he would be bringing a series of proposals to Government in the coming weeks which should allow for a referendum by the end of May or early June.

“Let this be a moment people will look back on as one where their representatives confronted one of the most complex issues we have faced as country with clarity, with compassion and with care,” said Mr Harris.

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