Belfast Telegraph

Referendum on Ireland's abortion laws to be held in May

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 Irish parliament 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 in Dublin, 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."

Terminations are currently only allowed in the Irish Republic when the life of the mother is at risk and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Last December,  a report by a specially convened parliamentary committee found that the section of the state’s constitution that confers equal rights on the mother and unborn child – the Eighth Amendment – was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

That followed recommendations from members of Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

The committee also recommended abortion 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.

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