Taoiseach undecided on stance in abortion campaign

Spokesman says Leo Varadkar needs to see proposals from all-party committee

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will wait until the wording of the abortion referendum is set before deciding if he will personally campaign in favour of the measure.

Mr Varadkar confirmed in the Dáil yesterday that the vote on repealing or replacing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is likely to take place in May or June of next year.

However, it is not clear if he will campaign in favour of the proposal.

His spokesman said Mr Varadkar would have to see the specifics of any proposals arising from the all-party committee which is currently considering the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion. The assembly called for the law to be changed to allow general access to abortion.


The committee is due to make its recommendations by the end of the year, after which Ministers will have to decide quickly what proposals they will seek Oireachtas backing for.

However, the Taoiseach has previously indicated that he does not believe that proposals for a wide-ranging liberalisation of the law, based on the recommendations of the assembly, would be passed in a referendum.

His spokesman’s comments suggest that he might not back such a proposal - leading to a scenario where the Government would propose a change to the Constitution but the head of Government would not personally campaign for it.

In a statement released later, Mr Varadkar’s office said: “The Taoiseach has always said that his personal views should not determine the final referendum.”

While he has said he believes the Eighth Amendment, which as article 40.3.3 of the Constitution guarantees the equal right of the unborn and the woman, should be changed, Mr Varadkar does not personally favour a complete liberalisation of the law.

Intense campaign

Last month he told The New York Times: "I don't share this view that the baby in the womb, the foetus, whatever term you want to use, should have no rights at all."

Mr Varadkar’s dilemma reflects the widespread view among politicians of all parties in Leinster House that a proposal to introduce a liberal abortion regime such as in the UK would be rejected in a referendum.

Campaigners on both sides are preparing for an intense campaign next year. Campaigners pressing for the repeal of the amendment will gather in Dublin for a march on Saturday, while anti-abortion campaigners are maintaining a constant presence outside Leinster House.

TDs say the lobbying from both sides is intense, with members of the committee considering the issue receiving hundreds of emails on a daily basis.

‘International best practice’

Meanwhile, The Irish Times has seen an email from Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who is a member of the committee, sent to activists on September 12th urging them to lobby her fellow committee members.

In the email, Ms Coppinger warned activists that the committee might seek to “water down” the recommendations of the assembly by “framing the discussion in terms of ‘obstetrics and foetal medicine’ and ‘foetal development’ rather than international best practice in abortion law and abortion provision and relegating choice and socioeconomic reasons to the bottom of the agenda”.

She supplied the email addresses and office phone numbers for all committee members.

“Activists should therefore contact committee members demanding that: women’s rights, international best practice in abortion law and abortion provision and the pro-choice recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, for access to abortion without restriction as to reason and socioeconomic reasons, are at the forefront of the Committee’s agenda,” the email states.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times