Irish Government agrees to hold abortion referendum by the end of May

Simon Harris the health minister will attend a special cabinet meeting about the abortion issue this evening. He is ready to draft legislation to allow for a referendum

Ireland's government is to give the go-ahead for a referendum on reforming the country's strict anti-abortion laws.

According to RTÉ News, the junior minister made the comments ahead of a special Cabinet meeting due to take place tomorrow, where the government is expected to finalise its plans on how to proceed with the upcoming referendum.

Terminations are now only allowed in the Republic of Ireland when the life of the mother is at risk.

The Taoiseach told BBC Radio over the weekend he will campaign to liberalize abortion.

Mr Harris said that whatever the Cabinet agreed in relation to the referendum bill, the electorate would be asked whether or not they wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment in full.

Last December, a report by a specially convened Oireachtas committee found that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution - which was passed in 1983 and is referred to as the Eighth Amendment - was not fit for goal and should be repealed.

However, his remarks emphasise how the abortion debate is set to divide opinion across Ireland.

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In the run up to the referendum, health minister Simon Harris will prepare and publish draft legislation proposing laws allowing for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks.

"I think sometimes that pro-life and pro-choice can be misunderstood..."

Seamus Woulfe, the state's chief law officer, has already reassured a number of ministers who have concerns about the "repeal and replace" approach that it would still be legally possible to challenge any subsequent abortion law in the courts.

It also called for expectant mothers to be allowed an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy if doctors diagnosed a foetal abnormality that was likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.

Over 170,000 Irish women have been estimated to have traveled to the United Kingdom to access abortion services since 1980, according to health minister Simon Harris.

The referendum will focus on the fate of the Eighth Amendment, not on the specifics on how the law would change if the constitution was altered.

When asked if their opinion had changed in the previous year, 19 per cent said they were now more open to the idea.

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