Draft referendum Bill asks voters about legislating for abortion

Cabinet to consider the first draft of a Bill to provide for a vote on repealing the Eighth

Regina Doherty said there was a responsibility to inform people as to how the proposal to allow for terminations on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy was arrived at. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Regina Doherty said there was a responsibility to inform people as to how the proposal to allow for terminations on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy was arrived at. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The draft heads of the Bill to provide for a referendum on abortion, which are to be considered by the Cabinet tomorrow, will ask voters if they wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to provide for the termination of pregnancy in accordance with law.

Ministers will consider the first draft of the Bill tomorrow and a final wording is due to be agreed by March 6th.

The legislation will provide for Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution to be replaced with an enabling provision stating that the Oireachtas has the authority to legislate for abortion.

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 will mark the beginning of the legislative process ahead of a referendum, which is expected to take place at the end of May.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was yesterday forced to clarify remarks in which she indicated that the question on the amendment being put to the people could be defeated.

Ms Doherty, a supporter of repealing the Eighth Amendment, said on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that “standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass.”

‘Not helpful’

Government sources said the comments and the confusion were “not helpful” at this stage of what will be a “difficult debate”.

Speaking to The Irish Times later, Ms Doherty said there was a responsibility to inform people as to how the proposal to allow for terminations on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy was arrived at.

“I was making the point that if we did nothing, then it could fail. But we will be doing something. I and others will be campaigning very strongly in favour of change,” she said. “I believe the referendum can and will pass. I, and members of the Government, will campaign for it. But we can’t be complacent, which is why I said earlier that we have a job of work to do to sell it.”

The Eighth Amendment enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn into the Constitution in 1983.

The Government supports removing the Constitutional ban on abortion. However, Ministers are divided on what legislation should replace it.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Simon Harris, Ms Doherty and most other Ministers support the proposal to allow for terminations on request up to 12 weeks.

However, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and some other Ministers including Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister for Communications Denis Naughten do not. Mr Coveney has stated he favours abortions in cases of rape and when a mother’s life is at risk.

Undecided

Two polls over the weekend indicated there is majority support for repeal of the amendment but there is weaker public support for the 12 weeks proposal. A fifth of voters remained undecided about the proposition to allow for terminations up to 12 weeks, while up to 48 per cent support it.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach would be campaigning in favour of liberalising the law in this area. He said the Taoiseach’s intentions would become clear in the very near future but said this whole process needed to be taken “step by step” and the legislation to hold a referendum was the priority.

The Pro-Life campaign, meanwhile, stressed a repeal of the Eighth Amendment would strip “unborn babies of all meaningful protections and lead to abortion on demand similar to countries like England”.