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Leo Varadkar thinks our abortion laws are 'too restrictive'

The Health Minister had made a landmark speech in the Dáil tonight.

Updated 11.20pm 

LEO VARADKAR HAS said that women’s lives are put at risk because of Ireland’s laws on abortion.

In the Dáil tonight, the Health Minister said the current constitution is “too restrictive”. He said:

“While it protects the right to life of the mother – it has no regard for her long term health. If a stroke, heart attack, epileptic seizure happens- perhaps resulting in permanent disability as a result – than that is acceptable under our laws and I don’t think that’s right.”

However, he also noted that he is against abortion on demand, calling himself pro-life.

“There is no perfect abortion law and never will be,” he added, before appearing to rule out any possible referendum in 2015.

“I propose that we have a considered and careful debate, and not attempt a ‘rush job’ referendum in the spring. We need a real debate and a genuine attempt to find a consensus.”

His comments came during a debate on United Left TD Clare Daly’s bill to repeal the 8th Amendment and replace it with a line in the Constitution that “acknowledges the right of all citizens to personal autonomy and bodily integrity”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie earlier this week, Varadkar said it is impossible to legislate to end all “human tragedies associated pregnancy” and said “there is never going to be a perfect abortion law”.

Here’s what he told us prior to his comments in the Dáil tonight:

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Video: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Migrants forced to carry pregnancies

Earlier it emerged that at least five migrant women in Ireland who wanted to have an abortion were forced to carry on with their pregnancy in the last year.

In total, 26 migrant women with travel restrictions attended the Irish Family Planning Association’s (IFPA) counselling services between September 2013 and September 2014 indicating they wanted an abortion.

These women include asylum seekers, undocumented women and women who need visas to enter other states.

The association’s annual report today revealed five of these women were forced to continue with the pregnancy and parent against their wishes. At least four were considering, or had already taken, the abortion pill. Seventeen women did not return to the service so it is unknown whether they managed to access abortion services.

This issues came under the spotlight earlier this year when a female asylum seeker was forced to continue her pregnancy, despite being suicidal. The woman had been raped and requested an abortion but this was denied. She became so distressed she went on hunger strike and doctors performed a Caesarian Section to deliver her baby between 24 and 26 weeks.

Repeal the 8th

Trade unions are backing Daly’s bid to repeal the 8th Amendment, which promises to protect the life of the unborn to the same degree as the pregnant mother’s.

A trade union campaign which aims to achieve the same goal of repealing the 8th Amendment will formally announced its support for the bill.

Helen Mahony, co-founder of the trade union campaign said support for the repeal of the amendment is growing within the trade union movement. Mandate, Unite, the Bray Trades Council, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and branches of unions are all coming together to demand the change.

Mandate’s Mandy LaCombre, explaining why the union was backing the bill, said women make up more than 50% of the union’s membership.

They do most of the care work in families. They earn less than their male co-workers – 50% of women earn €20,000 or less. When they face a crisis pregnancy, the 8th Amendment forces them to find up to €2,000 to travel abroad for an abortion for which they’ll probably have to take unplanned and / or unpaid leave.

This country can not allow the amendment to cause further tragedies, Laura Duggan of the Unite Youth Committe stressed, like the death of Savita Halappanavar or the recent treatment of the pregnant rape victim.

“Over a thirty-year period, almost 160,000 women have had to travel for abortions in private clinics because they are denied access to this basic medical procedure in their own country,” she said. “This hypocrisy has to end now.”

- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell and Sinead O’Carroll 

First published 10.30am 

Read: Pro-choice activists (and one TD) swallow abortion pills in Dublin>

Explainer: What is the 8th Amendment?>

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