Minister for Health Simon Harris has offered his political support and assistance to two pro-choice campaign groups seeking a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Mr Harris met the Women’s Council of Ireland and the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment on Friday afternoon to discuss the upcoming referendum on Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which places the life of the mother and the unborn on an equal footing.
The Minister outlined to both groups the process ahead of the referendum, which is due to be held by the end of May, and the key dates in the Government’s timeline.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Harris said: “I was delighted to meet with representatives of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and the National Women’s Council of Ireland to brief them.
“A strong civil society campaign will be key in the weeks ahead and I look forward to helping in any way I can.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted Ministers are bound to make a decision at Cabinet level but will be able to campaign on either side of the debate and in line with their own conscience
The Minister for Health has confirmed previously he supports repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing for terminations on request up to 12 weeks.
While the Cabinet is united on the proposition to remove Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, Ministers are divided on what legislation should replace it.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted Ministers are bound to make a decision at Cabinet level but will be able to campaign on either side of the debate and in line with their own conscience.
At the meeting on Friday, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment outlined its plans ahead of the referendum campaign and expressed its desire for politicians to provide leadership on this issue.
Convenor of the group Ailbhe Smyth described the discussions with Mr Harris as "very helpful, very productive and very positive".
Ms Smyth told The Irish Times: “We both have the same objective which is to repeal the Eighth Amendment and so it is essential organisations and politicians who share that objective work together. We are very grateful for the Minister’s support in this regard.”
Mr Harris is one of nine Cabinet members, including Mr Varadkar, who supports allowing for terminations on request up to 12 weeks.
Others, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, have expressed concern about the 12-week measure.
The Cabinet will discuss this matter on February 28th, ahead of the publication of the Referendum Bill on March 6th.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have free votes on the matter and Sinn Féin's position is not in line with the proposition to allow for terminations on request in the first trimester of pregnancy. Its policy in relation to repeal has been to allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest and foetal abnormalities and when a mother's life and health is at risk.
Labour, the Social Democrats, Green Party, Solidarity and People before Profit will campaign in favour of the proposal to repeal and allow for terminations up to 12 weeks.
However due to the free vote, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, as a collective, will not be in a position to campaign on either side.
Fine Gael sources confirmed there had been no discussion as to how it should handle the upcoming referendum insisting it would be up to individuals themselves as to whether they will campaign or not.
Sinn Féin is expected to hold a special ardfheis in April to allow for a change in its policy in line with the proposition to allow for terminations up to 12 weeks.