Abortion referendum to take place on May 25th

Electorate urged to turn out and vote in what seasoned politicians consider a tight-run affair

Simon Coveney said that he regarded himself as “someone who traditionally comes from a pro-life position”. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Simon Coveney said that he regarded himself as “someone who traditionally comes from a pro-life position”. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution is set to take place on Friday, May 25th.

Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy are holding a press conference to make the formal announcement.

Mr Murphy urged voters to use their voice on this issue. He also encouraged people to check the electoral register to ensure they can vote.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was time for the general electorate to have their say on the Eighth Amendment. He added that it is important there be a very high turnout.

“It is really important that people do not sit at home and presume somebody else will make the decision for you. If you feel as strongly as we do that there needs to be change in this area, you need to come out and vote.” he said.

Asked about what the result may be, the Minister for Health predicted it would be tight but said he was confident people would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said his change in position to support abortion up to 12 weeks was “conditional on getting a whole series of reassurances” in the proposed legislation.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Coveney rejected criticism of his proposal for a two-third majority “lock” to be introduced into the abortion legislation but said the Cabinet had agreed to explore other options .

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Mr Coveney said that the Cabinet had discussed the possibility of setting up another Citizens’ Assembly to discuss and debate the issues before any future changes to the law.

Mr Coveney accepted that the two-thirds majority proposal would not happen because there was not going to be another referendum on the issue.

But he said that the Cabinet had decided to explore other ways “in which we would provide that reassurance” to people concerned that abortion would be “unrestricted or almost available on request.”

“That is very much a secondary issue for me to the changes that we have managed to get in the actual content and detail of legislation,” he said.

Explaining his change of heart, Mr Coveney said that he regarded himself as “someone who traditionally comes from a pro-life position” and that he felt that a recommendation from the all-party Oireachtas committee that proposed terminations up to 12 weeks “wasn’t enough for me to support it in principle.”

Mr Coveney said that proposals, including ensuring that there was no rush to a decision to seek an abortion, had provided him with the reassurances to be able to support the legislation.

The changes amount to a “huge improvement” to a situation where abortions were taking place “unregulated, illegal, in the privacy of people’s bedrooms on the basis of pills that have been purchased online.”

There was “a lot more clarity” around medical guidelines and timelines for decision-making that “recognises the magnitude of the decision to terminate a pregnancy,” he said.

“We have managed to achieve now something that I think will provide a lot of reassurance to people particularly around what happens when a woman approaches a medical practitioner or doctor and asks for an abortion,” he said.

“There is now, I think, clarity in terms of what will be required before a doctor and of course a woman can sign off on that procedure going ahead.”

The Government agreed at its meeting yesterday to introduce additional safeguards “above and beyond” the normal legislative process to minimise the possibility of future changes to abortion laws.

The exact nature of the safeguards have yet to be decided but may require the establishment of an Oireachtas committee or a Citizens’ Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy are expected to confirm the date of the referendum.

It is understood to be May 25th, as previously indicated by the Government.

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