Ireland will hold a referendum next year on whether to repeal its ban on abortion in almost all circumstances, a few weeks before Pope Francis is expected to visit. Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, told the Irish parliament on Tuesday that a national vote on whether to abolish the eighth amendment to the constitution, which gives a foetus the status of a citizen even in early pregnancy, would take place in summer 2018. Under current law, a woman convicted of having an illegal termination in Ireland can face up to 14 years in prison. However, women are free to travel abroad for abortions, and thousands each year do so, mainly to England. Last year the UN human rights committee found that Ireland’s abortion laws were “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. It repeated this criticism in June.
Varadkar said the referendum would be staged either in May or June. The pope is expected to visit Ireland in August.
Varadkar has previously said the eighth amendment is “too restrictive”. The amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983 in which it was backed by 67% of voters.
Pro-choice groups in Ireland claim the amendment creates a legal “chill factor” among medical teams, even in cases where the law permits a termination, such as when continuing with the pregnancy would result in the woman’s death.