Taoiseach to campaign for liberalisation of abortion laws

Leo Varadkar made the comments to BBC Radio

Taoiseach to campaign for liberalisation of abortion laws

Picture by: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

The Taoiseach will be campaigning for the liberalisation of Ireland's abortion laws in the upcoming referendum.

Leo Varadkar gave the first indication of his stance in an interview with BBC Radio 4 this morning.

After noting earlier this month that he views Ireland’s current laws as "too restrictive;" he confirmed this morning he will be “campaigning for them to be changed and to be liberalised.”

He confirmed his view on this issue have changed since he told the Dáil in 2014 that he considered himself to be pro-life:

“My own views on this matter have evolved,” he said.

“I think sometimes the term pro-life and pro-choice can be misunderstood.

“I think even people who are in favour of abortion in certain circumstances are pro life.

"I still believe in life but I understand there are circumstances under which pregnancies can't continue."

Complexity

He refused however to define himself as ‘Pro-choice.’

“What do those words even mean?” he asked.

“Every single person I know who says they are pro-choice believes in some sort of restriction.

“These terms pro-life and pro-choice do not really comprehend the complexity of this issue which is a very private and personal one – and one I think that contains a lot of grey areas.

Mr Varadkar has come in for heavy criticism for his failure to make his position on the issue clear since the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment delivered its final report late last year.

The committee recommended that the Eighth Amendment be removed from the constitution – and abortion made available without restriction up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

The Eighth Amendment grants the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child.

Carefully choreographed

Independent Mattie McGrath said he was not surprised at the Taoiseach's announcement - or the manner in which he chose to make it:

“Surprise, surprise,” he said. “We all knew this was coming.”

“It is just the manner that was carefully choreographed.

“Interesting that he chose to do it on the BBC – in Davos I think, or I expect he was.

“But I had no doubt that he would arrive at this because he gave full support to the Citizens’ Assembly and to the Oireachtas Committee.”

He claimed the committee hearings were “blatantly biased.”

Compassionate position

Following the interview this morning, the Abortion Rights Campaign welcomed the Taoiseach’s change on stance:

“We commend the Taoiseach for the journey he has taken in the past few years,” said spokesperson Linda Kavanagh.

“As we have seen from the Citizens Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee, the more factual information people have, the more they come to a compassionate pro-choice position.

“We welcome the leadership shown by the Taoiseach as we move forwards toward repealing the Eighth and making abortion care available in Ireland for all who need it.”

Referendum

His BBC interview this morning comes just days before a special Cabinet meeting on Monday night.

The meeting is expected to give the formal go-ahead for a referendum and to decide to insert a clause enabling the Oireachtas to legislate for the termination of pregnancy.

A new poll published on Thursday found that a clear majority of voters would support the introduction of abortion on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

The Irish Times/MRBI poll suggests 56% would be in favour of the move, with 29% against.

Some 15% of those polled either didn't know or had no opinion.