Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has tonight announced that the Cabinet has agreed to hold a referendum on the 8th amendment which would likely occur at the end of May.

The referendum will ask the Irish people whether or not Article 40.3.3 which states “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” should be removed from the Constitution and replaced with an article which allows the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will provide a general framework of the law to the Cabinet by the end of February which would be put in place should the referendum pass. It’s expected that the law will follow the recommendations of the 8th Amendment Committee which recommended unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. Mr Harris said he hoped the bill would pass by the end of March.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting which lasted for several hours Mr Varadkar said “We have abortion in Ireland but it is unsafe, unregulated and unlawful, and in my opinion we cannot export our problems and import our solutions.”

He stressed that abortion should “No longer an article in our constitution, but rather a personal and private matter for women and their doctors. No more X Cases, no more C Cases. No more Miss Ys, Miss As, Miss Bs or Miss Cs”. Mr Varadkar also stated that he would be campaigned for the liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws.

Minster for Health Simon Harris said that change could not happen while the 8th amendment was in place.

Ailbhe Smyth, Convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment said: “We welcome the Cabinet’s formal agreement this evening to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and the Taoiseach’s announcement that he will be campaigning to repeal the eighth. This is a momentous point in our campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

“Tonight’s announcement is a real step forward to repealing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. We look forward to seeing the full details of what is proposed by the Cabinet and to giving it our full consideration. We urge the Government to lose no time in setting a firm date for the holding of the referendum” she added.

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign said “We would still prefer if abortion care was not singled out in our Constitution, but we are willing to support this provision, if worded properly, and heed the legal advice given by the Attorney General.”

“However we will be watching the Government very closely and encouraging our members and supporters to do the same in the weeks ahead with regards to the wording of a referendum bill and the proposed legislation. Generations of people have fought too long and too hard for change in our abortion laws, and we will not accept any fudges or half-measures. Modern, accessible and compassionate abortion care must be a guaranteed outcome of the referendum passing – that is non-negotiable.”

“We are looking forward to an energetic, compassionate, and respectful referendum campaign. We are repealing the 8th Amendment because we want an Ireland where everyone has access to compassionate, timely, local healthcare.”

Rachel O’Neill – Editor