Cabinet should accept recommendation of abortion up to 12 weeks - Harris

Fine Gael TDs and senators meet to debate abortion

 Minister for Health Simon Harris. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris. File photograph: Cyril Byrne


The Government should accept the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Speaking at conference in Dublin on Monday, Mr Harris said his position on the issue of abortion was clear. The Minister was speaking ahead of a debate on the matter at a special Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Monday afternoon.

While he accepts this is a deeply difficult issue for many people, Mr Harris said the proposals by the Oireachtas committee should form the basis of any subsequent legislation. The committee recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment of the constitution and allowing abortions up to 12 weeks without restriction. The Government has yet to adopt a formal position on the proposals but the Minister said he believes the Cabinet should allow for a referendum on this basis.

Mr Harris said: “I think the Oireachtas committee recommendations form the best basis for proceeding. I have been very clear on that, based on the evidence given to the Oireachtas committee.

“This is an issue about trusting women and trusting doctors.

“It is a deeply complex issue and it is not the same as going to a a parliamentary parliamentary party meeting and debate some finance Bill or a regular health Bill. This is an issue people have very strong personal views on it.”

Mr Harris is in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which outlaws abortion in Ireland in most cases, according to The Irish Times abortion referendum tracker. (What is the Eighth Amendment?)

Check the referendum tracker here:

While some in Fine Gael accept the recommendations, Mr Harris said others will campaign differently on it. However he stressed the time had come for people to have their say on the matter.

The Dáil will also debate the Oireachtas committee’s findings this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney - who has expressed reservations about a significantly liberalisation Ireland’s abortion regime - declined to give his position ahead of the Fine Gael meeting.

“I have said that I want the opportunity to talk to my colleagues about that before talking publicly about the detail of it and so I’ll be sticking to that,” said Mr Coveney when questioned in Cork this morning if he was in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

“There will be a number of months for the country to actually try and get its head around what is being proposed. All senior politicans will be involved in that debate and so will I.”

Asked if he would let his constituents in Cork South Central know his position, Mr Coveney said that he was never one to shy away from talking about issues in detail and this would be no different but he was being consistent in wishing to discuss the matter first with his Fine Gael colleagues.

“I said I would discuss the detail of the recommendations coming from an Oireachtas committee with my Oireachtas colleagues. We have an opportunity to do that today- I will be discussing with my colleagues today how we proceed and that’s all I am going to say for the moment,” he added.

It is understood that Mr Coveney is unlikely to express a definitive view on the Oireachtas committee’s findings at the meeting today, and his spokesman said the Tánaiste’s focus will be on the “direction of travel”.

What is the Eighth Amendment?

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

It states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

This article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.