Proposed abortion law changes would mark 'quantum leap'

The proposed changes to Ireland's abortion laws mark a quantum leap from being one of the most restrictive regimes in the world when it comes to the termination of pregnancy, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris told the Dail that the Irish Government is proposing to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without specific indication.

He is also proposing to introduce a time period which would be required to elapse between the assessment by a medical practitioner and an abortion being carried out.

A referendum on the country's laws is expected to take place at the end of May.

The minister made the comments after the bill to hold a referendum on abortion was introduced in the Dail. It follows a decision by government ministers at Cabinet on Thursday to formally approve the wording of the draft legislation.

Currently, terminations are only allowed in the Irish Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

If the referendum is given the go-ahead by parliament citizens, will be asked whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set Ireland's abortion laws in the future.

The exact wording would be: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy."

Mr Harris told the Dail he was mindful of the impact of the Eighth Amendment since it was inserted 35 years ago.

"If this Oireachtas facilitates a referendum, I will be casting my ballot for repeal and asking others to do the same because I cannot live any longer with a law that sees a woman or a girl who has been brutally raped forced to continue her pregnancy or travel to another country if she cannot," he said.

Mr Harris said he was looking into introducing a system of free contraception in an effort to reduce pregnancies.

In line with the parliamentary committee's recommendation, the bill proposes to permit termination up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without specific indication.

Mr Harris said he is now proposing to introduce a time period that is required to elapse between the assessment by a medical practitioners and the procedure being carried out.

"Contrary to some assertions, such provision would not make Ireland an outlier internationally," Mr Harris said.

"But I accept they represent a quantum leap from our position on the spectrum today where we have one of the most restrictive regimes in relation to termination and I think are pegged somewhere in and around where Saudi Arabia is on the issue."

Mr Harris said this brief period of time would allow women to consider of all of the options before making an informed decision.

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