Cabinet to table legislation for holding of abortion referendum

Supreme Court judgment paves way for vote to change Constitution

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil: “This referendum will be about asking the Irish public to change our Constitution – our basic and most fundamental law – to say that we, as a country, people and State, trust women to make these decisions for themselves.” Photograph:   Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil: “This referendum will be about asking the Irish public to change our Constitution – our basic and most fundamental law – to say that we, as a country, people and State, trust women to make these decisions for themselves.” Photograph: Collins

 

The Cabinet will today agree to table legislation in the Dáil immediately to hold a referendum which if passed would overturn the constitutional ban on abortion that has stood since 1983.

After yesterday’s Supreme Court judgment effectively cleared the way for a referendum to allow for the legalisation of abortion, Ministers will today agree a text for the amendment of the Constitution which is now on track to be put to voters in late May.

The Government will also publish on Friday a short policy paper outlining a proposed future abortion law, which it will introduce in the Dáil if the referendum is passed.

After 12 weeks, two medical professionals will be asked to determine the risk to a woman’s life, health or mental health before a termination can be provided

It will commit to abortions on request up to 12 weeks and propose that a time period should be introduced between the request for a termination and the abortion pill being accessed.

It would not stretch beyond three days, it is understood. The two options being examined are a dated prescription or requesting the woman return to the doctor in the following days.

Medical professionals

After 12 weeks, two medical professionals will be asked to determine the risk to a woman’s life, health or mental health before a termination can be provided. The same will apply in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. An appeals mechanism will be available to the woman in the event she is unsatisfied with the outcome.

The Bill providing for the referendum is likely to be passed comfortably by the Oireachtas. However, in a development that means none of the three big parties are unanimously backing the proposal for abortion on request up to 12 weeks, The Irish Times understands that Sinn Féin is now unlikely to hold an ardfheis before the intended referendum date of May 25th to change party policy to support the 12-week proposal.

Current policy supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment but only allows for abortion in a limited set of circumstances.

Party sources said officials are having difficulty locating a suitable venue to hold an ardfheis – likely to deal with a wide range of policy issues aside from abortion in advance of a potential autumn general election – before the referendum.

Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil will whip TDs and Senators on votes on the referendum or any succeeding legislation, and some Oireachtas members in both parties have already said they will oppose the measures.

Anti-abortion campaigners criticised the decision and said the choice for voters was now to expunge the only protection for the unborn, or to maintain it

Yesterday, in language that seemed to colleagues to be more pro-choice than before, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil: “This referendum will be about asking the Irish public to change our Constitution – our basic and most fundamental law – to say that we, as a country, people and State, trust women to make these decisions for themselves and decide in the early weeks of pregnancy whether they want to be pregnant and whether they are able and willing to be mothers.

‘Trusting our doctors’

“It is also a question of trusting our doctors to determine later in pregnancy when it is medically appropriate for a termination to occur.”

The path to the referendum was cleared yesterday morning when the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment, overturned a High Court decision which found that the unborn had rights in a number of constitutional articles. The Supreme Court found that the rights of the unborn in the Constitution were limited to Article 40.3.3 – the Eighth Amendment, on the right to life.

Anti-abortion campaigners criticised the decision and said the choice for voters was now to expunge the only protection for the unborn, or to maintain it.

“This judgment of the Supreme Court exposes the frightening reality of the Government’s proposals on abortion,” said Niamh Uí Bhriain of Save the Eighth. “It confirms that if the Eighth Amendment is abolished, then the only constitutional protections enjoyed by unborn children would be abolished along with it.”

“This is an extreme outcome which the Taoiseach himself rejected as recently as last September, and shows that the proposals go far beyond the so-called “middle ground”.