Republic of Ireland news

Proposed abortion law changes would mark 'quantum leap'

Health minister Simon Harris said the proposed changes to the Republic's abortion laws mark a 'quantum leap'. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Michelle Devane, Press Association

THE proposed changes to the Republic's abortion laws mark a quantum leap from being one of the most restrictive regimes in the world when it comes to the termination of pregnancy, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris told the Dáil that the Irish Government is proposing to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

He is also proposing to introduce a time period which would be required to elapse between the assessment by a medical practitioner and an abortion being carried out.

A referendum on the Republic's abortion laws is expected to take place at the end of May.

The minister made the comments after the bill to hold a referendum on abortion was introduced in the Dáil. It follows a decision by government ministers at Cabinet on Thursday to formally approve the wording of the draft legislation.

Terminations are only allowed in the Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

If the referendum is given the go-ahead by parliament, citizens will be asked whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set the Republic's abortion laws in the future.

The exact wording would be: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy."

Mr Harris told the Dáil he was mindful of the impact of the Eighth Amendment since it was inserted 35 years ago. He said if the referendum goes ahead he will vote for repeal because "I cannot live any longer with a law that sees a woman or a girl who has been brutally raped forced to continue her pregnancy or travel to another country if she cannot".

Mr Harris said he was looking into introducing a system of free contraception in an effort to reduce pregnancies.

He said he accepted allowing terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy would "represent a quantum leap from our position on the spectrum today where we have one of the most restrictive regimes in relation to termination and I think are pegged somewhere in and around where Saudi Arabia is on the issue".

Fianna Fáil's health spokesman Billy Kelleher told the Dáil Irish women were being treated as second class citizens.

"The minute an Irish woman becomes pregnant, she no longer has destiny over her own health care," he said.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she recognised the 12-week proposal was challenging for some people but pointed out that all legislation that comes through parliament is subject to review of the courts.

"Anyone who argues that the courts have been written out of the scenario, that this is some kind of carte blanche for untrustworthy politicians, is wilfully misleading public opinion," she said.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath criticised the government's handling of the issue.

"There's been no rationale offered to why the entire process has had to lead to a mad rush towards May 25 as the date of the proposed referendum that will strip unborn children of all constitutional protection if the Eighth is removed," he said.

Labour's Joan Burton said she hoped the debate would be respectful.

"The Labour Party was very clear in 1983 that the Eighth Amendment was the wrong amendment for our Constitution and for Ireland, for the people of Ireland and particularly for the women of Ireland," she said.

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