Abortion vote wording to be decided by March 6th, Cabinet told

Ministers agree to finalise legislation providing for abortion referendum

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says it is the intention of his Government to hold a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in late May.


The Cabinet has agreed to finalise legislation providing for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The draft heads of the Referendum Bill was considered by Ministers today and it was agreed voters should be asked to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to provide for the termination of pregnancy in accordance with law.

Ministers were told a final wording will be agreed by March 6th and published afterwards.

The policy paper outlining the legislation will not come before Cabinet until March 6th but it is expected to allow for terminations in the first trimester of pregnancy, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and when there is a serious risk to a mother’s life, health or mental health.

The consideration of the draft heads of the referendum Bill marks the beginning of the legislative process ahead of a referendum, which is expected to take place at the end of May.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted it is still his intention to hold a referendum by the end of May. However, he said he could not be definitive as the Government does not hold a majority in the Dáil and the Seanad.

The Eighth Amendment, article 40.3.3, 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, thereby prohibiting abortion in almost all cases.

In a statement after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “I now plan to finalise the Referendum Bill, so that the 36th Amendment to the Constitution Bill may be published in early March. The exact date of the Referendum will be set following a debate and vote in the Dáil and Seanad, but I am confident that our timeline can be met.”

“For the first time since 1983 the Irish people are to have their say on the substantive issue of the 8th Amendment and whether it should be removed from our Constitution. This follows recommendations from the Citizens Assembly and the cross-party Oireachtas committee, as well as a Government decision that a referendum be held.

Mr Harris said the referendum would propose that Article 40.3.3 is deleted in its entirety and a clause inserted that makes it clear that the Oireachtas may legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.

“It is important to remember that the referendum must be passed, and the 8th Amendment repealed, if anything is to change for Irish women,” he added.

“We have some very important - and busy - weeks ahead. I believe that as people reflect on the current situation in Ireland, where women are forced abroad to have a termination, where women are purchasing abortion pills illegally online and where women in extremely difficult situations are left isolated and neglected, that the Irish people will vote to repeal the 8th amendment.”