Ireland’s ‘hard laws’ create hard abortion cases, says Varadkar

Taoiseach dismisses Ó Cuív claim that 14-year jail term can be cut without referendum

It is Ireland's hard laws that create hard abortion cases, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil. He said the Eighth Amendment's equation of a woman's right to life with that of the unborn, at whatever level of gestation, is what "imposes those very hard laws". "The State must vindicate that right, and that's why such harsh penalties are imposed," he said. The Taoiseach said all crisis pregnancies were hard cases but cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality were "the hardest of hard cases".

Mr Varadkar also criticised as untrue claims he said the Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív had made on radio that the 14-year prison term for women convicted after taking abortion pills or having an abortion could be reduced. “That is not true, and we know it’s not true,” he said. The Taoiseach added that legislation to reduce the term was refused as unconstitutional on the advice of the Attorney General. “It couldn’t be allowed,” he said.

No “free-for-all”

Mr Varadkar also criticised “people being told repeal will be a free-for-all, that abortion will be allowed for no reason, and abortion until birth”. He said: “What I see now is a tactic by the No campaign to try and make out there is some sort of alternative amendment. I would ask people why, in those 30 years” – since the Eighth Amendment was inserted in the Constitution – “has nobody come forward with an alternative amendment” that could deal with the hard cases. “Why, three days before the referendum,” was this being claimed, he asked. “It is just a tactic, and I think the Irish people will see through that.”

The Taoiseach was responding to the Sinn Féin president, Mary Lou McDonald, who said No campaigners were claiming that “hard cases” could be dealt with under the current constitutional framework, “and that is untrue”.


She said the same people “campaigned against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill”, which allowed for intervention only when a woman’s life was at risk”. No campaigners, she said, claimed the legislation would open the floodgates to abortion, and that did not happen.

She also asked about the Government’s proposed legislation should the referendum be passed. Mr Varadkar told her it was just that, draft legislation. It would allow for terminations until the 12th week of pregnancy. After that point there would need to be a specialist indication that a termination were necessary to protect the life or health of a pregnant woman.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times