The bill that will allow for the holding of a referendum on the eighth amendment was passed unanimously at a special Cabinet meeting this morning.
Minister for Health Simon Harris plans to introduce the Referendum Bill into the Dáil this evening or Friday for debate. The date has not been announced, nor has the wording for the referendum itself. The intended referendum date is May 25. Today, Mr Harris stated it will be difficult to meet the May deadline.
The Referendum Commission will be established tomorrow. It was announced that Isobel Kennedy SC will chair the Referendum Commission.
A policy paper outlining what will be in place should the eighth amendment be repealed will be debated is an affirmative vote is passed in the referendum. Cabinet will likely commit to 12 weeks unrestricted abortion access and propose that a time period should be introduced between the request for a termination and the abortion pill being accessed, according to the Irish Times, that would be three days maximum. A dated prescription or requesting the woman return to the doctor in the days following the procedure are the options being examined.
After 12 weeks, two medical professionals will likely be asked to determine the risk to a woman’s life, health or mental health before a termination can be provided. The same will apply in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Under these proposals, an appeals mechanism will be available to the woman in the event she is unsatisfied with the outcome.
The approval of the bill follows a Supreme Court decision involving the rights of the unborn yesterday. The ruling related to a High Court judgement that the unborn have rights guaranteed in the constitution outside of the right to live. The Supreme Court has now overruled the findings, deciding that the unborn has no constitutional rights beyond the right to life.
This decision means there will to be no objection or delay to the referendum, which will still go ahead in late May. Explaining the ruling, barrister Paul Anthony McDermott told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “What the Supreme Court has said in a nutshell is that other than the right to life, all your constitutional rights start at birth.”
A policy paper is also being discussed today, outlining the legislative parameters of what will replace the eighth Amendment in the event that the public votes in favour of a repeal in May.
Speaking outside Leinster House, Harris said it was appropriate that this decision was taken on International Women’s Day, and that he would campaign enthusiastically in favour of repealing the eighth amendment. He was joined by four ministers – Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan and Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton – who echoed the sentiment.
Sinn Féin is unlikely to hold an Ardfheis to update its abortion policy before the eighth amendment referendum is held.