Wednesday 18 September 2019

Cabinet will be asked today for stance on abortion referendum

Abortion referendum
Abortion referendum
John Downing

John Downing

THE Taoiseach will today seek Cabinet approval for a referendum on the liberalisation of abortion, including termination any time up to 12 weeks.

Attention will focus on up to six ministers who have yet to clarify where they stand and may have problems with the 12-week term.

Leo Varadkar faced unease within Fine Gael yesterday over his decision to break his silence on the issue ahead of today’s crucial meeting.

In a BBC interview in Davos, Switzerland, he spoke of the need for change and how he intended to campaign in next summer’s referendum campaign.

Fianna Fail’s Willie O’Dea said it was “astonishing” that the Taoiseach could tell foreign journalists before telling the Dail or the Irish people.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty defended Mr Varadkar, arguing that he had said little that was new.

Five of the six ministers who have not clarified their position are members of Fine Gael – Tanaiste Simon Coveney, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, Regional Affairs Minister Michael Ring, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Education Minister Richard Bruton. The sixth minister is Independent member Denis Naughten.

The Cabinet will be asked to make three decisions.

First, agree the date of the referendum, likely to be in late May or early June.

Second, the expected endorsement of advice from Attorney General Seamus Woulfe, to opt for the so-called “repeal and enable” approach.

This would ask voters to replace the 1983 abortion amendment with a clause giving clear responsibility for the Oireachtas to legislate on the matter.

An option would be the “repeal simpliciter”, drawn up by a special committee of TDs and senators last month.

This would simply delete the 1983 amendment, which gives equal rights to the mother and unborn child, without further change to the constitution.

Finally, ministers will be asked to authorise Health Minister Simon Harris to frame the legislation.


The wording will be a major part of the upcoming referendum debate.

A loss of support from key ministers will make things harder for the Taoiseach, despite the granting of a “freevote” to all members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

Mr Varadkar will be heartened by an opinion poll yesterday that suggested success for a referendum.

However, the Red C survey showed a change in outcome when the issue of 12 weeks was put to those being questioned.

While 60pc favoured repeal, this dropped to 51pc when the 12 weeks issue was raised.

Junior Finance Minister Patrick O’Donovan has told RTE he will not support the repeal campaign.


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