Irish premier Leo Varadkar has denied assertions that abortion could be decriminalised in Ireland without the referendum being passed on Friday.
Mr Varadkar said it is not possible to reduce the threat that women face of up to 14 years in jail unless Irish people chose to repeal a controversial amendment in the Irish Constitution.
The Taoiseach made the comments after opposition TD Eamon O Cuiv said the laws could be changed to decriminalise women, even if citizens voted against changing the constitution.
Voters will head to the polling booths on Friday to decide whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the unborn and to the woman, and allow parliament to liberalise the laws to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Under the current laws, women who procure an abortion can face up to 14 years in prison but can travel abroad for one without sanction.
Mr Varadkar rejected Mr O Cuiv’s claims in the Dail on Tuesday saying parliament had already tried to decriminalise abortion but it was refused on constitutional grounds.
“The Eighth Amendment is too hard and forces a very hard law on Irish people and Irish women,” Mr Varadkar said.
He said the amendment means the right to life of the unborn, of a foetus of a few days gestation, is equal to the life of the woman.
“Equal to the right to life of your mother, your sister, or your female friends and coworkers,” he said.
The Taoiseach added: “The state must vindicate that right – that is why such harsh and tough penalties are applied.”
Mr O Cuiv, who is advocating for a No vote on Friday, told RTE News on Monday that changes could be made to remove the offence.
The Fianna Fail TD said he was not in favour of prosecution of women who terminate their pregnancies.
“We can change the statute book in any way,” he said, adding that nobody has ever been prosecuted.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, who is calling for a yes vote, said the amendment blocks any action by parliament to legislate for the so-called hard cases such as rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.
“We’ve tried,” she said. “The only way we can help women in these circumstances is to return a yes vote on Friday,” Ms McDonald said.
“To suggest otherwise is entirely disingenuous.”
She added that these were not exceptional cases, they are real women facing devastating scenarios and circumstances every day.
“The Eighth Amendment represents a real and ongoing threat to the lives of Irish women,” the Sinn Fein leader said.