Taoiseach confirms Cabinet approval for 8th amendment referendum

Leo Varadkar says he will advocate for a Yes vote

Taoiseach confirms Cabinet approval for 8th amendment referendum

Image via @campaignforleo on Twitter

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed the Cabinet has given approval for a referendum on the 8th amendment at the end of May.

He was speaking alongside Health Minister Simon Harris and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone on Monday night.

The question put to people will be to repeal the 8th amendment and insert an article into the Constitution, allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

At an earlier Cabinet meeting, the Tánaiste Simon Coveney told colleagues he could not support the recommendation of allowing abortion for 12 weeks without restriction.

But he will support repeal and all other committee recommendations.

Mr Varadkar said: "We know that thousands of Irish women - from every county in Ireland - go abroad for abortions every year.

"We know that many women are obtaining abortion pills through the post to end their pregnancies. So we have abortion in Ireland, but it is unsafe, unregulated and illegal.

"The question has to be a Yes or No one; do we reform our abortion laws or not?

"I will advocate for a Yes vote. My own views on abortion have evolved over time.

"Life experience does that. As minister for health, I became convinced abortion had no place in the Constitution.

"If the referendum is passed, a doctor-led, safe and legal system for the termination of pregnancy will be introduced. Safe, legal and rare.

"No longer an article in the Constitution, but rather a private and personal matter for women and doctors.

"In recent weeks many people, mainly men, have spoken about the personal journeys they have been on.

"We should remember the saddest and loneliest journey is made by Irish women who travel to other countries in their thousands to end their pregnancies.

"These journeys don’t have to happen".

The Taoiseach said the proposed question to be put to the people is: "That provision may be made by law for the regulation of the termination of pregnancy."

He is set to brief Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin on Monday night, with other party leaders to be briefed on Tuesday.

A summary of legal advice from the Attorney-General is also to be published on Tuesday.

"A significant day"

In response, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said: "This is a significant day.

"Having voted against, and campaigned against the 8th amendment in 1983, I welcome the Government decision today.

"Given the findings of the Citizen’s Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee, the Government had no option but to proceed on this basis.

"Those of us who support this change must argue for it strongly but respectfully of those who hold different views to our own.

"I believe the public are ready to endorse change."

Amnesty International has also welcomed the decision.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: "We are heartened at today’s government backing for legislation framed around a 12-week ‘on request’ model for abortion access, with later gestational limits in specific circumstances.

"This is a further sign of real political will to put women’s and girls’ bodily autonomy firmly at the centre of abortion law reform.

"We further welcome the Taoiseach’s personal endorsement of this legislative model as the best way to ensure effective access to this healthcare."

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said: "This decision is the result of a growing understanding that the 8th amendment is a fundamental barrier to ensuring women and girls access to the healthcare services they need.

"It is an acknowledgement that the Constitution is no place for meeting the complexities of women’s needs in pregnancy and that we must allow doctors to apply best medical practice and care for all of their patients in this country without fear of prosecution".

Additional reporting: Sean Defoe