Tuesday 22 January 2019

Varadkar will support abortion up to 12 weeks

Government plans 'technical changes' to Oireachtas committee recommendations

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to support repealing the Eighth Amendment and will campaign for more liberalised abortion laws, including access to abortion services in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris, and Attorney General Seamus Woulfe will this week recommend to Cabinet a 'repeal and enable' referendum bill to go before the Dail and Seanad in the next six weeks, with a view to a referendum in late May or early June.

Mr Harris will also publish within the next few weeks a detailed general scheme for the legislation that will be put to the Dail in the event of the referendum being passed.

Government sources say the legislation "will be in line" with the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

It is understood there will be "a few technical changes" to the recommendations. A government source said: "For example, the committee recommended that GPs only could prescribe the abortion pill in the first trimester. Technically, that would mean a gynaecologist could not. That doesn't make sense."

In effect, the question to be put to the public will involve the deletion of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution to be replaced with a clause giving explicit responsibility to the Oireachtas to legislate on the matter.

While the Oireachtas committee recommended the question involve a simple repeal of the article, the Government believes 'repeal and enable' will reinforce the legislation and make legal challenge less likely.

A government source said: "The approach we are taking ensures that the Oireachtas can actually legislate, that there are not any unenumerated foetal rights that might prevent that, such as the courts deciding that children's rights or citizenship rights apply from conception or implantation. It's not what the Citizens' Assembly proposed, which is wording that would make it the 'exclusive prerogative' of the Oireachtas. That would undermine the separation of powers between the Oireachtas and the courts."

The source added that the Taoiseach had "shipped a bit of criticism" for delaying an outline of his position "but he thinks it was right to give people a bit of time to understand the 12-week aspect and the reasons for it".

Another government source said: "A lot of ministers and TDs are coming around to it. Micheal Martin, in taking his position, has also helped in that he has reduced the fear of losing pro-life voters to Fianna Fail. Also, public opinion seems to be there or thereabouts."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 yesterday, the Taoiseach also questioned the use of the terms of 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' when discussing either side of the referendum debate.

"These terms pro-life and pro-choice don't really comprehend the complexity of this issue, which is a very private and personal one."

Sunday Independent

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