Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar on abortion debate: The time has come for the people to have their say

A decision to end the constitutional restriction on abortion is for the people of Ireland to make, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said the Fine Gael parliamentary party will meet in January to discuss Wednesday's vote by politicians to repeal the Eighth Amendment and introduce new laws to decriminalise terminations in some circumstances.

He said the issue will then be debated in the Dail but that he believes it is now time for the public to decide.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday ahead of the EU Summit, Mr Varadkar said: "This is a decision for the Irish people and I believe the time has come for the people to have their say on this issue.

"I have been doing my best to ensure the debate that we have is respectful and civilised."

On Wednesday 14 of the 21 politicians on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment voted in favour of the repeal of the hugely divisive Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

The committee, which has been considering the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly and its calls to relax the strict limitations on abortion, will publish its report next week.

As it stands, the 1983 Eighth Amendment of the Constitution affords equal rights to pregnant women and unborn children.

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

More than 3,000 women travel each year to England and Wales for the procedure.

The committee rejected a proposal that abortion should be allowed if a woman is diagnosed with a foetus with a significant but non life-threatening abnormality.

The committee did not back access to abortion without restriction to reasons up to 22 weeks and it also did not back access to terminations on socio-economic grounds.

Other reforms backed by the committee are for abortion to be legal in cases of rape; if there is a real and substantial physical risk to the life of the woman; a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman by suicide; and serious risk or risk to a woman's health.

It is hoped the public will vote on the radical reform in a referendum next May.

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