Belfast Telegraph

Exact wording of abortion referendum to be revealed next month

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

The exact wording of the proposed abortion referendum will be made public early next month, the government has agreed.

Health Minister Simon Harris has been given the formal go-ahead to finalise a bill to delete the controversial Eighth Amendment and insert a new provision allowing the Irish parliament to be given powers to legislate on abortion.

The decision was made at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The text of the Referendum Bill will be finalised this week so that the 36th Amendment to the Constitution Bill can be published in the first week of March.

Currently, terminations are only allowed in the Irish 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.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Harris was given approval to draft the bill that would delete Article 40.3.3 form the Constitution and insert a new article enabling the Oireachtas to regulate abortion services in Ireland.

“The intention is to publish the bill in the first week of March but we need to get some further legal advice on the precise wording which we are confident is okay, but we need to get some further advice on it and also the place in the Constitution where it should rest,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We would anticipate having that legislation ready in the first week of March.”

He added that the Government intended to hold the referendum before the end of May.

“We’re on schedule in terms of the timelines that we’ve set out,” he said.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson)

The exact date of the referendum cannot be set until the bill is approved by both the Dail and the Seanad.

It will require a debate and a vote to be held in both houses.

Opposition TDs questioned the two-week delay by the government in publishing the details of the Referendum Bill.

Ruth Coppinger TD said she did not understand the delay and that there was a danger that the government may not be able to hold the referendum in May as a result.

“There is no need to wait until International Women’s Day,” Ms Coppinger said.

“If it’s for publicity and kudos that’s a bit selfish because people really need to have this referendum at a time that facilitates most people.”

The Taoiseach said that was not the reason for the delay.

“I can understand where that theory comes from, that’s it is linked to International Women’s Day, that’s not the reason at all,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I am conscious of the separation of powers in answering this question Ceann Comhairle but there is a case before the Supreme Court at the moment with regard to the definition of unborn and it may be prudent for us to see what that judgment is.”

The government last month formally agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The move came after the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment published its report recommending repeal of Article 40.3.3, which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child.

The report stated that Constitutional provision prohibiting the termination of pregnancy in Ireland was unfit for purpose and in need of reform.

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