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Dublin: 9 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018

Special Cabinet meeting to consider final wording of Eighth Amendment referendum

Ministers will also consider and publish the Referendum Bill which formally allows for a referendum to be called.

Image: Leah Farrell

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said the path is now clear for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to be held in May.

Speaking after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the minister outlined the timetable set down by government.

The Cabinet will today meet to consider the Attorney General’s advice and the final wording to be put to the people in a referendum. The minister also plans to introduce the Referendum Bill into the Dáil this evening or Friday.

The bill formally allows for a referendum to be called.

The Dáil Business Committee will decide later today whether to grant the Taoiseach’s request for the Dáil to sit on Friday (which is unusual) in order to progress matters and give politicians time to debate the bill.

The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Attorney General had requested time to consider the Supreme Court judgement which ruled the unborn had no other Constitutional rights outside the right to life in Article 40.3.3.

Referendum Bill and wording

Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that while there have been delays and obfuscation regarding this issue down through the years, nobody could accuse him of causing any undue delay in calling a referendum on the issue.

“I do not want to make any mistakes either. When the Attorney General asks for a day to consider the written judgment, the Attorney General will get a day to consider the written judgment… If we can have the Bill in the House tomorrow [Thursday] night, we should. If not, we should have a full session on Friday,” said the Taoiseach.

Speaking outside Government Buildings, Harris said it was right and proper for the government to wait for the ruling before it took any further steps.

He also asked TDs to facilitate the passage of the referendum bill “so the people of Ireland can finally have their say”.

It is not believed that the debate on the referendum bill will be concluded today or Friday.

Policy paper

It is understood the minister may also detail the specifics contained in the government’s policy paper.

The policy paper, which will be published later today, sets out the main points contained in the proposed legislation that will be introduced if the public votes to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Heads of that bill of legislation will be published by the end of March.

There will be no surprises in the policy paper, which is expected to outline that unrestricted abortion would be allowed up to 12 weeks.

A woman requesting an abortion within this timeline will have to wait for a period of two or three days to consider her decision, though details on how this process will work has yet to be worked out.

Abortion will also be permitted without a time limit on grounds of a serious risk to the health of a woman. In this case, a termination will require the assessment of two medical practitioners.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Harris urged the public to repeal the Eighth Amendment:

If you believe that it is wrong that a women who is brutally raped has to carry her pregnancy to full-term in this country, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
If you believe it is wrong that a women who has a fatal foetal abnormality in her pregnancy finds herself having to travel to Britain to bring back her baby’s remains in the boot of her car, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment. If you believe it is wrong that women from every county in this country on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, travel abroad for a termination, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
And if you believe it is wrong that women, our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, our wives, our neighbours, our work colleagues access abortion pills without medical supervision in the privacy and loneliness of their bedroom or their home, if you believe that’s wrong, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

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