Friday 25 May 2018

Cabinet will publish abortion referendum bill today - here's what to expect

The Government will later publish the referendum bill. Photo: Damien Eagers
The Government will later publish the referendum bill. Photo: Damien Eagers

Shona Murray

The Government is completing the final steps required to hold a referendum on abortion.

The Cabinet will this morning publish the referendum bill which will be followed by a debate and a vote in the Oireachtas.

What does the bill include?

The bill allows for a "repeal and enable" clause which will give the Oireachtas explicit competence to legislate for abortion should the public vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Cabinet will agree that the words "provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy" be inserted in to the Constitution in place of the Eighth Amendment, known as Article 40.3.3.

Will we get the exact question for the referendum?

The exact question to be asked of voters will not be in the bill but it is likely they will be asked a question along the lines of: "Do you agree to delete Article 40.3.3. or the Eighth Amendment in its entirety and where provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy?" It will be a yes or no answer.

What did yesterday's landmark ruling at the Supreme Court mean?

Essentially, the judgment means any future court case challenging subsequent abortion legislation is less likely to succeed.

The Government was forced to delay the publication of the bill while it awaited yesterday's landmark ruling at the Supreme Court, which found the unborn has no rights under the Constitution other than the right to life contained in the Eighth Amendment.

Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the court's decision, saying it brought "great clarity to an important situation".

"I think it was right and proper that the Government waited to consider and finalise the wording of the referendum until the Supreme Court had made its ruling," said Mr Harris.

So, when will the Dáil debate begin?

The obligatory Dáil debate will have to begin tomorrow morning at the latest in order for the Government's timeline for a referendum to take place in May. The Business Committee which determines the Dáil agenda will sit at 2pm today to decide when a debate can be facilitated.

The leaders of all political parties and several Independents have pledged their willingness to begin debating and voting on the bill as soon as possible, which could also be tonight.

What will the debate involve?

Mr Harris will open the debate with a 20-minute speech detailing the Government's policy paper - its planned legislation describing the circumstances in which abortion will be available if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

The policy paper - which will be broadly in line with the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee - will say that any woman wishing to access a termination up to 12 weeks must wait around 48-72 hours before a termination can take place.

This "consideration period" will begin from the first meeting with the woman's GP or healthcare practitioner. She may be given a post-dated prescription for abortion pills to be filed when the consideration time has elapsed.

The paper will also confirm the decriminalisation of abortion for women who procure one for themselves. And in the case of risk to the health of a woman - with no distinction to mental health - a termination can be carried out following the approval of two medical experts. There will be no gestational limit in cases of potential fatal foetal abnormalities.

"I don't believe doctors in this country should have to dust down Bunreacht na hÉireann to decide whether or not they can treat a woman who might have diabetes and be at risk of going blind or be at risk of losing her kidney function.

"If you believe it is wrong that a woman who has a fatal foetal abnormality in her pregnancy finds herself having to travel to Britain and bring back her baby's remains in the boot of her car, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment," Mr Harris said.

Anything else?

Minister Eoghan Murphy will start preparatory work to establish a referendum commission.

It will produce literature and run a public information campaign.

The chair of the commission will be announced by tomorrow, or as soon as the bill is published.

Irish Independent

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