Abortion referendum: What happens next?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left), Minister for Health Simon Harris (right) and Senator Catherine Noone at Dublin Castle for the results of the referendum. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left), Minister for Health Simon Harris (right) and Senator Catherine Noone at Dublin Castle for the results of the referendum. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THE Republic has voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Eighth Amendment of its constitution which strictly limits abortion. What happens next?

Will the law around abortion immediately change?

No. The referendum result - once officially signed off after a week when objections can be lodged - only gives politicians the power to change the law.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said his government aims to pass new legislation by the end of the year, with work expected to begin immediately.

Draft measures would allow relatively free access to abortions, subject to consultation with a medical professional and after a short waiting period, up to 12 weeks after gestation and up to 24 weeks with restrictions.

If, after 12 weeks, a woman's life is threatened or there could be serious harm to her health, two doctors will consider whether to allow the procedure.

Terminations will not be carried out after the foetus becomes viable following 24 weeks of pregnancy, and legislation is likely to allow for conscientious objection by medical professionals.

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Are new laws a certainty?

The leader of the opposition, Micheal Martin, has said his No-supporting Fianna Fail parliamentarians will not block the change. Those who campaigned against the measure have also said they respect the democratic decision.

The law will be subject to debate inside and outside the Dail, and judging by the partisan nature of that before the referendum it could be passionate.

There is likely to be renewed emphasis on crisis pregnancy prevention and care which has seen the number of cases dramatically decrease in Ireland in recent years.

What are the implications for Northern Ireland?

Pressure has already been put on Theresa May's government to intervene to legislate on abortion in Northern Ireland in the absence of an assembly, but the DUP - which currently props up the party in parliament - has insisted it remains a devolved matter and Downing Street has also indicated it is "an issue for Northern Ireland".

The Irish government will also come under pressure to make new abortion services available on an equal basis to women north of the border who can already access free services on the NHS in England, where the 1967 Abortion Act made it legal for the termination of a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks if two doctors agree there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

Is the Republic ready to provide abortions?

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) said it is committed to offering the procedures.

Chief executive Niall Behan said it would support women with crisis pregnancies through whatever decision they make.

"The Yes vote places the imperative squarely on the government to ensure that the legislation is enacted and services put in place without delay," he said.

"The IFPA stands ready to provide high quality abortion services in Ireland."