Ireland's government approves abortion referendum bill

The Irish Government has agreed the wording of the national referendum on abortion to be held by the end of May

The Irish Government has agreed the wording of the national referendum on abortion to be held by the end of May, giving the go-ahead for voters to have their say on liberalizing Ireland’s abortion laws.

Ministers formally approved the referendum bill at a Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin.

Voters will be asked if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, effectively enshrining a ban on abortion in the country’s constitution.

That wording will be: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”

The move comes in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that protections for the unborn child offered under the state’s constitution do not extend beyond the right to life.

If Ireland votes in favour of repeal, the government has said it will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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.

Since 1983, an estimated 170,000 women have left Ireland to have terminations, and up to 2,000 women each year illegally take the abortion pill, accessed online.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this referendum is about asking citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves.

“It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families,” Varadkar said.

“And it’s about trusting our doctors to decide when continuing with a pregnancy is a risk to the life or health of a woman.”

The Taoiseach added: “Above all it’s about trusting Irish people to consider this matter in depth, with compassion and empathy, as I know they will.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said it was fitting the Government had approved the wording on International Women’s Day.

“It is very appropriate and fitting that on this day the Irish Government has taken a decision that we will have a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and that we will have finalised the wording for that referendum,” Mr Harris said.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing that wording and the referendum bill into the Dail tomorrow.”

The Government will formally establish the Referendum Commission on Friday.

It will be chaired by Justice Isobel Kennedy.

The Referendum Commission is an independent statutory body that must be established in advance of any referendum in Ireland to provide unbiased information to the public about the issue.

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