According to a report by The Times, Cabinet has made extensive progress on the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment by setting a poll date, May 25th, and approving the text of the draft bill.
The late May date is thought to have been fixed upon because it will facilitate University and Leaving Certificate students to vote on Constitutional regulation to access to abortion without interference with examinations.
If the referendum culminates in a ‘Yes’ vote, the current 8th amendment prohibiting abortion will be removed, and replaced with new legislation reading: “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.” This provision would cease the control of the Constitution over Ireland’s abortion laws, and allow the Oireachtas to legislate to reform current anti-termination laws. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stated he is confident the text of the replacement provision is legally sound.
The Government is due to give final confirmation of the text of the replacement provision by March 6th. At this point the referendum date will be finalised, if no substantive legal issues arise. The Taoiseach has dismissed allegations that the Government is stalling finalisation of the wording of the bill to make the confirmation closer to International Women’s Day on March 8th, and instead pointed to the ongoing Supreme Court case relating to the extent of the constitutional rights of the unborn outside of the 8th amendment. On Friday, the Supreme Court announced they would reserve their judgement on the case, and give a decision as soon as they were in a position to do so. The Times quoted a government spokesperson, who spoke of his confidence that the polling date would be set for the last Friday in May despite a “tight time frame.”
Health Minister Simon Harris is in the process of publishing a policy plan in the next month, which would deal with the potential eventuality of the referendum passing and the Oireachtas obtaining power to legislate for Ireland’s abortion laws. The plan would permit access to terminations in the first 12 weeks.