Taoiseach warns law on 12-week abortions might fail in Oireachtas

Government cannot guarantee Bill would pass if Eighth repealed, Varadkar says

Katie Donoghue, from Drumcondra in Dublin, joined other Suffragettes outside Leinster House on Tuesday, a century after women won the right to vote, to show support for a new generation fighting for abortion rights ahead of the referendum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Katie Donoghue, from Drumcondra in Dublin, joined other Suffragettes outside Leinster House on Tuesday, a century after women won the right to vote, to show support for a new generation fighting for abortion rights ahead of the referendum. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned legislation to allow for abortions up to 12 weeks may not pass the Oireachtas, even if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Speaking ahead of a two-day Dáil debate on the issue, Mr Varadkar said the Government did not have a majority and could not guarantee its own Bill would pass through both houses of the Oireachtas.

The Taoiseach indicated the Government would produce a clear indication of what would replace the Eighth Amendment ahead of the referendum and signalled his intention to support the Oireachtas committee recommendations.

However, he added: “We need to bear in mind that once, or if, the Eighth Amendment is removed from our Constitution, the legislation would then be in the purview of the Oireachtas and this Government does not have a majority in the House.”

The Government has not yet formally adopted the Oireachtas committee recommendations, which proposed removing article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and allow for terminations up to 12 weeks.

It has, however, agreed in principle to hold a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Varadkar said Attorney General Séamus Woulfe was assessing whether an enabling provision should be inserted into the Constitution in the event of repeal.

A recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly suggests that an enabling provision be inserted into the Constitution specifying that legislation in this area is the sole prerogative of the Oireachtas, and not the courts.

‘Strange position’

Mr Varadkar said the Government could find itself in a “strange position” where “other rights to life exist in other parts of the Constitution that might then make any legislation we pass unconstitutional”.

He added: “There are also rights to privacy, children’s rights and rights to bodily autonomy. We need to consider the possibility – and we have sought the Attorney General’s advice on this – that the Citizens’ Assembly may have been correct in suggesting that an enabling amendment will also be needed.”

The Dáil will begin a two-day debate on abortion today with TDs set to outline their positions on the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment proposals.

The Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil briefly discussed the matter at separate meetings yesterday.

It was agreed that members of the alliance had differing views on the issue and all five TDs agreed not to influence each other or change one another’s opinion.

Each member will have a freedom-of-conscience vote. Minister of State John Halligan has said he supports the proposals by the committee, while Seán Canney and Kevin “Boxer” Moran oppose them.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath have stated they are in favour of repeal but have not indicated their support for the 12-week proposal.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the party’s front-bench meeting the issue was a matter for individual members to decide upon.

Mr Martin said the parliamentary party would discuss the issue further at a meeting today, where Fianna Fáil members of the Oireachtas committee would be available to answer any questions TDs and senators may have.

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