Hours before pro-choice activists take to Dublin’s streets to protest Ireland’s current abortion laws, the government has agreed to immediately table legislation to hold a referendum on the eighth amendment at the end of May.
The referendum, which has long been anticipated by pro-choice and pro-life campaigners, is currently set for May 25th, with ministers today agreeing on a wording for the amendment.
On Wednesday, in a special sitting of the Supreme Court in Cork, judges overruled a previous decision by the High Court about the rights of the unborn, creating a clear path for the referendum process to continue.
Chaired by Justice Isobel Kennedy, the Referendum Commission will be created on Friday.
Speaking after the meeting in which the decision was taken, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that “abortion is a reality in Ireland”.
Harris said that if people decided to vote no in the upcoming referendum, it would make it impossible for the government to address all the current issues around female healthcare in Ireland: “We will not be able to address issues in relation to women who have had fatal foetal abnormalities in their pregnancy, in relation to women and girls who have been raped and abused in this country, to the fact that our daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, work colleagues could be using the abortion pill without medical supervision and we will not be able to do anything about the fact that women from every single county in Ireland travelled to the UK.”
Joined by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, all those present promised to campaign for a “yes” vote in the referendum.
The Irish Times reports that the government will now publish a short policy paper on Friday that will outline legislation the government could introduce should the referendum pass. It is expected that the legislation will allow abortions on request up to 12 weeks. Women will be expected to wait a certain amount of time, no longer than three days however, between requesting the termination and acquiring one.
Women who are past the 12-week period will be assessed by two medical professionals who will determine the risk to her life, health or mental health. This will also be the case for fatal foetal abnormalities. An appeals process will be implemented, however, should a woman feel that the wrong decision has been made.
Recent months have seen numerous government ministers throw their support behind the campaign. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has committed to advocating for a “yes” vote as has opposition leader Micheál Martin.
Students have been instrumental in the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. Today, Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) will gather in Front Square for a rally before joining a larger March for Repeal at the Garden of Remembrance. Last September, students joined 30,000 others on the streets of Dublin to call for a referendum on the issue. The landscape of the debate has changed drastically since then with a referendum guaranteed and a date practically in sight.