Demonstrators participate at The March for Choice event in Dublin, calling for a change to Ireland's strict abortion laws, in September last year.
Demonstrators participate at The March for Choice event in Dublin, calling for a change to Ireland's strict abortion laws, in September last year. Tom Honan

Ireland gets vote on abortion

THE Irish Government will hold a national referendum "by the end of May” on reforming the country's strict anti-abortion laws.

Openly gay Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is expected to outline the government's stance on the issue after a Cabinet meeting to discuss details of the plebiscite, but has said he will campaign to liberalise the law.

Cabinet is expected to adopt a collective stance, but Mr Varadkar has said ministers will have a free vote.

"If the referendum is passed, a doctor-led, safe and legal system for the termination of pregnancy will be introduced,” he wrote on Twitter.

Terminations are allowed in the Republic of Ireland only when the life of the mother is at risk. Illegal abortion carries a jail term of up to 14 years.

The referendum will focus on the fate of the Eighth Amendment, the section of the Constitution that confers equal rights on a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

More than three quarters of the population is Catholic.

The public will not vote on the specifics of how the law will change.

A specially convened parliamentary committee concluded the amendment was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

The committee also has recommended abortion be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision.

It also called for expectant mothers to be allowed an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy if doctors diagnose a fetal abnormality likely to result in death before or soon after birth.

Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Simon Harris said that he would outline proposals for a potential law change that he would put before parliament if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.

Mr Harris said that whatever the Cabinet agreed in relation to the referendum bill, the electorate would be asked whether or not they wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment in full.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said early summer was the preferred time to hold a ballot on the matter.

- Chris Baynes, The Independent



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