Republic of Ireland news

Eighth Amendment: May referendum on Republic's abortion laws

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who has said he will campaign for abortion laws to be "liberalised" in a referendum on the issue. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Staff Reporter

A REFERENDUM on the Republic's abortion laws is to be held at the end of May, the Irish government agreed last night.

Following a special meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced a vote will be held on the Eighth Amendment of the state's constitution.

The amendment confers equal rights on the mother and unborn child.

A date for the vote has not yet been formally agreed.

However, the planned referendum would be held several months before Pope Francis is due to travel to Ireland - the first visit by a pontiff since Pope John Paul II's 1979 visit to the Republic.

Mr Varadkar has previously he will campaign for abortion laws to be "liberalised" in a referendum.

Last December, a report by a specially convened parliamentary committee found that the Eighth Amendment was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

That followed recommendations from members of the Republic's Citizens' Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

The committee also recommended abortion be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision, and that the procedure should be allowed if the life or health of the woman was at risk.

It also called for expectant mothers to be allowed an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy if doctors diagnosed a foetal abnormality that was likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.

The referendum will focus on the fate of the Eighth Amendment, not on the specifics on how the law would change if the constitution was altered.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Health Minister Simon Harris said that he would outline proposals for a potential law change that he would put before the Dáil in the event of the Eighth Amendment being repealed.

Mr Harris said the electorate would be asked whether or not they wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment in full.

If the amendment in the constitution is repealed, any draft legislation would only become law if the Dáil voted for it, and that is not a foregone conclusion given the Fine Gael coalition is a minority administration and TDs will vote on conscience.

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