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Cabinet approves draft bill clearing way Oireachtas to set new abortion laws if 8th is repealed

The deadline for production of a final bill is 6 March.

File photo of Minister Harris.
File photo of Minister Harris.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated at 5.15pm

THE CABINET HAS given its formal approval to the draft scheme of the bill that will form the basis of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said that the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment will propose that the article in the Constitution that gives the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child be deleted in its entirety.

He also said that the referendum will propose that a new clause is inserted that makes it clear that the Oireachtas may legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.

“Today the Government took the next step on the road to a Referendum on the 8th Amendment,” Harris said in a statement.

“The Cabinet gave formal approval for the draft General Scheme of the Bill, which will form the basis for the referendum on Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution to be held in late May this year.

I now plan to finalise the Referendum Bill, so that the 36th Amendment to the Constitution Bill may be published in early March

He said that the exact date of the referendum will be set following a debate of the Bill in the Dáil and the Seanad.

He said he was “confident that our timeline can be met” in relation to having the referendum in May.

“For the first time since 1983 the Irish people are to have their say on the substantive issue of the 8th Amendment and whether it should be removed from our Constitution,” Harris said in a statement.

“This follows recommendations from the Citizens Assembly and the cross-party Oireachtas committee, as well as a Government decision that a referendum be held.

That referendum will propose that Article 40.3.3 is deleted in its entirety and a clause inserted that makes it clear that the Oireachtas may legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.

Harris – who has already said he will be campaigning to change Ireland’s abortion laws – reminded people that the Referendum must be passed and the Eighth Amendment repealed “if anything is to change for Irish women”.

“We need to change the status quo, for this to happen we must repeal the 8th,” he said.

It is important that we are clear that if the people of Ireland do not repeal article 40.3.3 we cannot legislate for fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest or women’s health.

Legislation 

He said that the Department of Health was currently drafting laws which would follow the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

“This legislation will be based on the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment,” he said.

I intend to publish a policy paper at the beginning of March which will outline what that legislation will include.

In December, the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth – which was tasked with examining the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on the subject - voted in favour of repealing the Eighth.

It recommended for abortion without restriction to be legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Cross-party members came to the majority-decision after hearing testimony from medical and legal experts, as well as personal stories, over the course of three months.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already said that he would be campaigning for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

It is understood that Tánaiste Simon Coveney told his Cabinet colleagues last month he could not support the 12-week provision.

The actual question asked in the referendum may prove to be key, with many undecided people doubtless keen to know exactly what they will be voting on.

A recent Sunday Independent poll suggested that 40% of those polled think there should be unrestricted abortion in Ireland up to 12 weeks, with 33% saying this goes too far, and 19% undecided.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

Read: Bertie Ahern says he’s been ‘talking to Simon Coveney’ about the ongoing Stormont talks

Read: Sinn Féin says direct rule is ‘off the table’ as Varadkar speaks by phone to Theresa May

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