Irish PM Promises Abortion Referendum Next Year

abortion
Women who obtain an abortion in Ireland face life in prison (Photo: Shutterstock)

Ireland will hold an abortion referendum in 2018 after the Citizens Assembly voted in favour of unrestricted access to terminations in the country.

Newly-elected Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland) Leo Varadkar used his first speech to announce the news, despite fears that a scheduled visit from the Pope next August could clash with and be “overshadowed” by campaigning.

Simon Harris, Minister for Health, has been charged with bringing forward legislation to allow for a public vote on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

The controversial amendment, which states that a foetus and its mother have an equal right to life, has been repeatedly branded “cruel and inhumane” by the UN’s Human Rights Committee.

It remains unknown how the referendum question will be posed. Pro-choice campaigners want all abortion restrictions removed from the constitution to limit the risk of women feeling forced into travelling or taking pills for terminations. Their opponents, meanwhile, merely want to liberalise the language slightly.

This latest news from Ireland comes after the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that women from Northern Ireland, where abortion laws are the strictest in Europe, will not be entitled to NHS-funded abortion procedures in England.

Women who undergo an abortion in Northern Ireland face life in prison while those in Ireland face 14 years behind bars. Abortion is only permitted if it is necessary to save a mother’s life but is illegal even if the child will not survive, if the mother faces a long-term health condition or if the baby was conceived through rape or incest.

Last year, 724 Northern Irish women had abortions in England and Wales, according to the British Department of Health, while many others travelled further afield in search of the procedure. Women who are unable to travel have been known to research ways to self-induce an abortion, such as through taking pills.

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