The Irish government has agreed the wording of a national referendum on abortion to be held by the end of May which could radically transform the lives of thousands of women and signal a further loosening of the grip of the Catholic church. The cabinet, meeting on International Women’s Day, approved a bill on Thursday allowing the long-anticipated referendum to go ahead. Voters will be asked if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, effectively enshrining a ban on abortion in the country’s constitution. If Ireland votes in favour of repeal, the government has said it will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Currently, terminations are only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.
Since 1983, an estimated 170,000 women have left Ireland to have terminations, and up to 2,000 women each year illegally take the abortion pill, accessed online.
The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves. It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families.