Belfast Telegraph

Proposals to allow abortions in first 12 weeks 'went further than many expected'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said recommendations to allow abortion without restriction in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy went further than many people expected.

A referendum on the future of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is due to be held in May, with Mr Varadkar declining to give his opinion on the debate.

After the first cabinet meeting of the year, the Taoiseach said a decision on what question would be put to voters on the contentious issue should be determined by the end of the month.

"For a lot of people, not just in cabinet, a lot of people in the country, the proposal to allow for the termination of pregnancies up to 12 weeks went further than many people would have anticipated," he said.

"It certainly went further than I would have anticipated a year or two ago."

The planned referendum on the Eighth Amendment followed recommendations in late December by a specially convened Oireachtas committee which found that Article 40.3.3, which gives the mother and unborn child equal right to life, is not fit for purpose.

It called for the amendment to be repealed.

In its 40-page report the committee recommended that abortion should be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision, and that the procedure should be allowed if the life or health of the woman was at risk.

It also called for expectant mothers to be allowed an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy if doctors diagnosed a foetal abnormality that was likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.

The cabinet met for two hours in Government Buildings with the abortion issue top of the agenda.

The Taoiseach said that Government ministers, backbenchers and senators would be free to campaign for or against any reform of the strict limitations on abortion.

"It is, I know, very much a private and personal matter and there is a diversity of views on this matter in the cabinet, in the Oireachtas, in every political party and I think in almost every family or household," the Taoiseach said.

"As far as my party is concerned, the Fine Gael party, I want us always to be a warm house and a big tent for people with a diversity of views on this issue whether pro-life, pro-choice or in that very big grey area in between."

Before a referendum is held the Government is expected to outline how laws will be changed if the public votes in favour of repealing the constitutional limitations.

The committee found that the current laws which allow for a pregnancy to be terminated if a woman's life was at risk have created significant difficulties.

It called for gestational limits for abortion to be guided by the best available medical evidence and be provided for in legislation.

It said at least two specialist doctors should be asked for assessments in relation to the termination of pregnancy where the life or the health of the woman was at risk.

The committee also called for all pregnant women to be given access to scans between the 18th and 22nd week of the pregnancy .

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