Simon Harris: "Irish women are having abortions - they're just having them in other countries"

The Health Minister says he believes the issue should be dealt with through legislation rather than the Constitution

Simon Harris: "Irish women are having abortions - they're just having them in other countries"

Simon Harris. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Simon Harris has said that abortion is a reality for many Irish women - and that the question is now how we respond to that as a country.

Minister Harris spoke to On the Record Chris Donoghue in the wake of an Oireachtas committee vote that the 8th Amendment should not be retained in full in the Constitution.

The committee is considering the conclusions of the recent Citizen's Assembly, with the Government planning to hold a referendum on the amendment next May or June.

Minister Harris reiterated his personal view that he does not believe abortion is an issue that can be dealt with in the Constitution.

He told Chris: "I'm still grappling with a lot of the finer detail, but I have clarity in my own mind [over what] I believe should happen regarding the Constitution.

"I don't believe the place to address the issue of abortion and women's health is the Irish Constitution - and I believe whatever structures we wish to put in place should take place in legislation rather than the Constitution."

'Constitutional rigidity'

The Health Minister and Wicklow TD suggests that it can be "extraordinarily hard" to respond to situations that may occur when there is constitutional "rigidity" over an issue.

He explained: "For example... I think there's an overwhelming majority of people in this country who feel that there should be change for people who experience fatal foetal abnormality. But when the Oireachtas looked at that last time when we were doing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, we couldn't address that issue as legislators.

"We have an opportunity here as a country to finally put a question to the people, give the people an opportunity to decide whether they wish to bring around change... and then allow legislators actually put in place legislation."

Minister Harris also said that he hates the phrase 'abortion on demand', because he doesn't believe "an abortion is ever a situation anybody ever wants to find themselves in".

He says that whatever is ultimately put in place needs to be "legally and medically workable", and that he wants doctors to be "empowered to make clinical decisions on behalf of women & infants".

"Abortion is a reality for many Irish women"

Minister Harris also told Chris that he has spoken to women who have dealt with "extraordinarily difficult pregnancies", and that they have informed him that Ireland can be a "very lonely place" in such situations.

He argued: "Let's also just accept a fact that is a little bit Irish at times: Irish women are having abortions - they're just having them in other countries.

"Abortion is a reality for many Irish women each and every year - it's a question about, as a country and as a society, how we want to respond to that."

"I'm very respectful of the fact that people will have absolutely diametrically opposed views to me - and they shouldn't be castigated, labelled, ridiculed or anything else. Everybody's entitled to have an opinion on this."

You can listen back to the full interview via the podcast below: