The Irish Government has finalised the wording for an abortion referendum giving the go-ahead for voters to have their say on liberalising Ireland abortion laws.
Ministers formally approved the referendum bill at a Cabinet meeting at Government Buildings in Dublin.
The move comes in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that protections for the unborn child offered under the state’s constitution do not extend beyond the right to life.
The Government had waited for the ruling. If the court had found rights were more widespread within the constitution it may have put the referendum in doubt.
Currently, terminations are only allowed in the Irish Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.
Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.
Citizens will be asked whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set Ireland’s abortion laws in the future.
That wording will be: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this referendum is about asking citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves.
“It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families,” Mr Varadkar said.
“And it’s about trusting our doctors to decide when continuing with a pregnancy is a risk to the life or health of a woman.”
The Taoiseach added: “Above all it’s about trusting Irish people to consider this matter in depth, with compassion and empathy, as I know they will.”
Health Minister Simon Harris said it was fitting the Government had approved the wording on International Women’s Day.
“It is very appropriate and fitting that on this day the Irish Government has taken a decision that we will have a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and that we will have finalised the wording for that referendum,” Mr Harris said.
“I’m really looking forward to bringing that wording and the referendum bill into the Dail tomorrow.”
The contentious Eighth Amendment of the country’s legal framework enshrines the right to life of the unborn – a provision that renders abortion illegal other than in exceptional circumstances.
Mr Harris added: “The women we’re thinking of today on international women’s day are the women who have courageously told their woman personal sensitive stories.”
He said it was their stories that brought about the change.
The minister made the comments at Government Buildings after the meeting.
“The message of Government to the Irish people today is if you want to see change in this area we need to repeal the Eighth Amendment,” Mr Harris said.
“We’re really looking forward to the next number of weeks where we can take this debate firstly to the Dail and Seanad and then to the people of Ireland and give the people of Ireland an opportunity to have their say on this really important issue by the end of May.”
The Government will formally establish the Referendum Commission on Friday.
It will be chaired by Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy.
The Referendum Commission is an independent statutory body that must be established in advance of any referendum in Ireland to provide unbiased information to the public about the issue.
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