Abortion referendum bill could be debated as early as Thursday evening

The Irish Government intends to publish the legislation for the planned abortion referendum on Thursday paving the way for the voters to decide whether to liberalise the country's abortion laws.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Cabinet will meet on Thursday morning to discuss the wording of the referendum bill.

If ministers give it approval it could be debated in the Dail as early as that evening.

Mr Varadkar said he had agreed to a request from the Attorney General for a day to consider the written judgment by the Supreme Court.

His advice will be considered at the Cabinet meeting.

"It's important that we get this right," Mr Varadkar said.

"It's important that we dot the Is and cross the Ts.

"We don't want to make any unforced errors when it comes to a referendum on changing our constitution."

The Taoiseach said the introduction of the bill into the Dail would allow the Government to formally establish a referendum commission and its work would begin almost immediately.

"That is certainly what I wish to do," Mr Varadkar said.

The Referendum Commission is an independent statutory body that must be set up in advance of any referendum in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said: "This is going to be a profoundly deep and difficult debate for many people in this country.

"It is my strong wish that it be a respectful debate and one that is never personalised."

He added: "Above all, the referendum will be about asking the Irish public to change our Constitution - our basic and most fundamental law - to say that we, as a country, people and state, trust women to make these decisions for themselves and to decide in the early weeks of pregnancy whether they want to be pregnant and whether they are able and willing to be mothers.

"It is also a question of trusting our doctors to determine later in pregnancy when it is medically appropriate for a termination to occur.

"That is fundamentally the question we will ask the Irish people to answer, ideally with the co-operation of the House, before the end of May this year."

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