Varadkar backs abortion when woman’s health is at risk

Minister for Health says ‘life experience and growing up a bit’ led him to change his views

When asked about his position on the eight amendment to the constitution Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said abortions should be allowed in cases where there is significant risk to the health of a pregnant woman. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said abortion should be allowed if there is significant risk to a woman’s long-term physical health – not just in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The Minister’s latest intervention in the abortion debate will be seen as unhelpful by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who had hoped to close down discussion of the topic before and during the election campaign.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Varadkar said he disagreed with the current Constitutional position equating the unborn child’s right to life to that of the mother’s, adding that “life experience and growing up a bit” had led him to change his previously more conservative views.

“What we have at the moment . . . is this kind of absolute right to life where the unborn’s life is equal to that of a pregnant mother, I don’t agree with that. I think that is too restrictive,” he said.

“The current line really is that a termination is possible if there’s a risk to the life of the mother, but what about the risk to [her] long-term health?

“There are pregnancies that involve, we’ll say, a woman who has very severe heart disease, high blood pressure.

“I think there should be a mechanism where decisions like that are a matter for the woman and her doctor, not the law.”

‘Too restrictive’

Mr Varadkar said there should be a right to life in the Constitution, but the Eighth Amendment was too restrictive.

The 1983 amendment enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn into the Constitution.

Last November, Mr Kenny said a convention to debate changes to the amendment would be set up within six months of the general election, followed by a free vote on the issue in the Dáil for Fine Gael TDs.

Mr Varadkar, who is a GP, agreed with this approach.

He said his opinion was that terminations should be permitted in cases where the foetus had no prospect of surviving, “fatal foetal abnormalities . . . and also where there’s a significant risk to the health of the mother”.

He warned there could be no “perfect law” that would eliminate the possibility of tragedies, ethical dilemmas and potential court cases.