A referendum on Ireland’s constitutional restriction on abortion will take place by the end of May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced.
Citizens will be asked whether they want to retain the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution – that enshrines equal rights for the mother and unborn – or repeal it and replace it with an enabling provision that allows the Dáil to legislate on the issue, Mr Varadkar said.
The Taoiseach said if people voted to repeal, the Government would then table draft legislation that would allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.
After a four-hour cabinet meeting on the contentious issue at Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar said: “I know this will be a difficult decision for the Irish people to make.
“I know it is a very personal and private issue and for most of us it is not a black and white issue, it is one that is grey – the balance between the rights of a pregnant woman and the foetus or unborn.”
Mr Varadkar said Health Minister Simon Harris would prepare draft legislation proposing laws allowing for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks that would be published prior to the referendum.
Those proposed law changes would only be tabled on the floor of the Dáil for a vote in the event of the referendum backing repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Mr Varadkar said the draft laws would only permit abortion after 12 weeks in “exceptional circumstances”, such as a serious risk to the life or health of the woman or in the event of a fatal foetal abnormality.
Addressing the press after a four-hour Cabinet meeting on the contentious issue, the Taoiseach said if the Eighth Amendment was repealed abortion would “no longer be an article in the constitution, rather a personal, private matter for women and their doctors”.
The Pro Life Campaign has deemed the announcement from the Government on the Eighth Amendment “as bad as anyone could have envisaged: the removal of legal protection from unborn babies and providing for abortion on demand”.
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) have welcomed the Government’s decision to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, but have warned the Government that they “will not accept any fudges or half-measures”.