Harris aims for Bill on abortion to pass before end of year

Harris confident Oireachtas will support the law because ‘nobody has any alternative’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar joined cabinet colleagues and Fine Gael members at a final event in Dublin city centre to call for a Yes vote on the Eighth Amendment on polling day. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The Government will seek to pass abortion legislation by the end of the year if the Eighth Amendment is repealed in Friday’s referendum, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

If there is a Yes vote, the Government will publish the heads of a Bill to regulate the termination of pregnancy by the summer and will seek to pass it by the end of the year, according to Mr Harris.

He said he was confident the Oireachtas would support the law because “nobody has any alternative”.

Mr Harris told The Irish Times there was no room for complacency from those advocating a Yes vote, insisting it would be an “extraordinary close” result.

“This could be very tight. Liking things on Twitter, liking things on Facebook is not enough. People need to get out and vote,” he said.

Both Yes and No campaigns held events in Dublin on Thursday as the two sides prepared for the final day of campaigning before voting. Both sides will make their final appeals to voters ahead of the moratorium on broadcast coverage which begins on at 2pm on Thursday. Online and social media campaigning is unaffected by the ban, however.

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The final television debate took place on TV3 on Wednesday night.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said suggestions from the No campaign that abortion in more limited circumstance was preferable to the present proposals was “a stunt”.

But No spokeswoman Maria Steen said that the campaign to retain the amendment was being joined by pro-choice people who believed that the Government’s proposal is “a step too far”.

Voting begins at 7am Friday, with the polling stations remaining open until 10pm.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar echoed calls for a Yes vote from the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, emphasising the cross-party nature of support for constitutional change among parties at Leinster House.

Mr Varadkar thanked leaders of the other parties for their support and said the proposal to change the Constitution to allow for abortion was “much more than” a Government proposal. “It has wide cross-party support and arose from recommendations from an all-party committee,” he said.

However, anti-abortion Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the committee was a “stitch-up”.

In response, Ms Coppinger accused No campaigners of “misogyny” and of “spreading lies and . . . whipping up fear”.

Later Mr McGrath suggested there were “widespread problems” with the electoral register, saying he was aware of “reports of numerous instances of illegal and irregular voter registration”.

No campaigners have raised concerns about illegal registration of Yes voters, but the Government has dismissed their suggestions.

Meanwhile, it is understood senior members of Fianna Fáil have contacted individual TDs to “use their influence” to ensure members who support a No vote do not threaten to block the legislation.

One party source said there would be some TDs and Senators who would rush to the media to claim they can stop the legislation. “The message was to try to curb that enthusiasm,” the source added.

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