Q&A: Abortion committee to vote on final recommendations

Government will be guided by committee but is not bound by its recommendations

Protesters on both sides of the abortion divide outside the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. File photograph: Getty Images

Protesters on both sides of the abortion divide outside the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. File photograph: Getty Images


What is happening today?

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment will today vote on its final recommendations.

It is expected it will propose removing Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution, which gives the unborn and the mother an equal right to life, and allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

The legislation, the majority of the committee will say, should allow for terminations up to 12 weeks and show “compassion” towards parents who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

The committee has a number of dissenting voices. Three members do not support any amendment to the current regime, while two Fianna Fail TDs will recommend replacing Article 40.3.3 to allow for terminations in certain cases.

Sinn Féin TDs are also bound by the party’s position, which allows for repealing the Eighth Amendment and legislating for terminations in a particular set of circumstances.

The recommendations will be voted on and included in its final report, which will be published on December 20th.

What happens next?

The timeline going forward is somewhat unclear. The report will be informally discussed by the Cabinet next week and debated in the Oireachtas in the new year.

While the Government has said it will be guided by the Oireachtas committee, it is not bound by its recommendations.

A decision will have to be taken by the Government as to whether it will accept the proposals by the committee and if so, move to implement them.

So, when will the question being put to the people become known?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has committed to a referendum by June. That is a very tight timeframe.

The Dáil and Seanad will debate the report, which will not be rushed, considering the subject matter.

A Bill to allow the referendum take place will have to be published by February to meet a commitment to hold it by June.

If a referendum was to take place by May, a Bill would have to be published by the end of January.

The Government will also have to publish a separate piece of law to detail what would occur if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

It will have to decide whether to publish this alongside the referendum Bill.

Where do the political parties stand on this issue?

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have votes of conscience on this subject. Sinn Féin has a party policy, which does not mirror the committee’s recommendations.

Labour, People Before Profit, Solidarity and the Social Democrats are all in favour of repeal and allowing terminations up to 12 weeks.

It is expected most members of the Houses will vote to allow a referendum to take place.

However, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs will be allowed to campaign on either side of the referendum campaign.