Abortion wording ‘needs to be decided by February for June vote’

Harris says work under way on abortion legislation for ‘whatever outcome’

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was working with the Attorney General to provide legislative proposals for whatever the Oireachtas committee  decided. Photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was working with the Attorney General to provide legislative proposals for whatever the Oireachtas committee decided. Photograph: Collins

 

The Cabinet will have to decide the wording of a referendum by February 14th if one is to take place in June, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris has been working with Attorney General Seamus Wolfe on the wording of legislation to provide for every outcome of the Oireachtas committee’s deliberations.

To have a referendum in June, a referendum Bill would have to be published by mid-February.

If a referendum is to be held in May, such legislation would have to be outlined by January.

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. It guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously mentioned summer 2018 as a possible date for a referendum on amending or repealing the amendment.

Mr Harris said to meet a June deadline, a referendum Bill would have to be before the Oireachtas by February, and, to have that done, a legislative proposal would be needed before the end of the year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Harris said he was personally in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment but was working with the Attorney General to provide legislative proposals for whatever the Oireachtas committee decided.

He said his preparations were “not in a decision-making capacity” and would consider “all scenarios”. The Minister said he expected “lots of different views” and that there would be a “free vote on the issue”.

It is expected the Oireachtas committee considering the Eight Amendment will recommend repeal of the amendment when it holds its meeting today.

Members are understood to be in favour of a Fianna Fáil proposal to make terminations legal with no restriction up to a gestation limit of 12 weeks.

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said he will carefully read the report of the committee when it is published.

The current system is “too restrictive” Mr O’Callaghan said but added he would not like to see a regime as exists in the United Kingdom and France.