Dáil Concludes Debate On Bill Enabling Referendum On The 8th Amendment

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It will also propose that medical practitioners who are opposed to abortion should be allowed to cite a conscientious objection as provided for in existing legislation.

The Irish government has finalised the wording for the abortion referendum, which is set to be held in May.

Ministers approved the bill in the last hour, and the next stage will require the Dáil and Seanad to give their approval before a date can be fixed for the referendum.

Currently, the penalty for an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison and they are only allowed legally if the mother's life is at risk from the pregnancy.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

Voters will be asked whether they approve of the statement: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies". The referendum, slated for the end of May, will be putting a possible repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish people.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar used International Women's Day to announce the ballot wording, saying the referendum was about "trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what's right for them and their families".

"This work has so far established that provision of free access to contraception methods, which are now limited to those with eligibility through the Primary Care Reimbursement Services, would require enabling primary legislation", said Harris.

Providing access to medical abortion on request in early pregnancy, and in later pregnancy in additional circumstances, is the minimum needed to respect and fulfil women's human rights.

"I think what the Supreme Court did was it showed how lucky we are to have the Eighth Amendment".

The decision cleared the way for the referendum in a country where terminations are only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk.

Fianna Fail TD Billy Kelleher - a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Abortion said Irish women have been failed by the Eighth Amendment.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said: "The manner in which the Government has dealt with this amendment bill has been nothing short of disgraceful".

The move comes after a Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that protections for the unborn child offered under the state's constitution do not extend beyond the right to life.

Labour's Joan Burton said she hoped the debate would be respectful and produce a good outcome for the people of Ireland.

Ailbhe Smyth of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment said: "This is a historic and momentous day for Ireland, and for the women of Ireland in particular".

"Instead of doctors and midwives providing the best of maternal care to women, instead what we have had is decisions about women's care moving to the hands of lawyers and courts".

On Friday the Irish government will formally establish a referendum commission, chaired by Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, which will provide unbiased information to the public about the issue.

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