Latest: Taoiseach accused of being 'out of touch' following comments on abortion recommendation

Update 10pm: The Taoiseach is being accused of being out of touch, after he suggested that proposed new abortion laws may go too far.

Leo Varadkar says the Oireachtas committee's recommendation of abortion on request up to 12 weeks, went further than he expected.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger was a member of the committee. She thinks the Taoiseach isn't facing the facts.

"The Red C poll that was done in November shows that 60% of people supported this particular demand that Mr Varadkar is so terrified about which is abortion at the request of the person themselves up to 12 weeks," Ms Coppinger said.

Update 7.55pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said recommendations to allow abortion without restriction in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy went further than many people expected.

A referendum on the future of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is due to be held in May, with Mr Varadkar declining to give his opinion on the debate.

After the first cabinet meeting of the year, the Taoiseach said a decision on what question would be put to voters on the contentious issue should be determined by the end of the month.

"For a lot of people, not just in cabinet, a lot of people in the country, the proposal to allow for the termination of pregnancies up to 12 weeks went further than many people would have anticipated," he said.

"It certainly went further than I would have anticipated a year or two ago."

The planned referendum on the Eighth Amendment followed recommendations in late December by a specially convened Oireachtas committee which found that Article 40.3.3, which gives the mother and unborn child equal right to life, is not fit for purpose.

It called for the amendment to be repealed.

In its 40-page report the committee recommended that abortion should be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision, and that the procedure should be allowed if the life or health of the woman was at risk.

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.

The cabinet met for two hours in Government Buildings with the abortion issue top of the agenda.

The Taoiseach said that Government ministers, backbenchers and senators would be free to campaign for or against any reform of the strict limitations on abortion.

"It is, I know, very much a private and personal matter and there is a diversity of views on this matter in the cabinet, in the Oireachtas, in every political party and I think in almost every family or household," the Taoiseach said.

"As far as my party is concerned, the Fine Gael party, I want us always to be a warm house and a big tent for people with a diversity of views on this issue whether pro-life, pro-choice or in that very big grey area in between."

Before a referendum is held the Government is expected to outline how laws will be changed if the public votes in favour of repealing the constitutional limitations.

The committee found that the current laws which allow for a pregnancy to be terminated if a woman's life was at risk have created significant difficulties.

It called for gestational limits for abortion to be guided by the best available medical evidence and be provided for in legislation.

It said at least two specialist doctors should be asked for assessments in relation to the termination of pregnancy where the life or the health of the woman was at risk.

The committee also called for all pregnant women to be given access to scans between the 18th and 22nd week of the pregnancy.

Update 6.30pm: The Taoiseach says he won't reveal his position on abortion until he knows what question will be put to people in a referendum.

Leo Varadkar says there's strong agreement at cabinet that a vote on repealing the 8th amendment take place this year.

He'll reveal his views in the coming weeks and says he will campaign on the issue.

The Taoiseach added that cabinet members will be free to vote and campaign whatever way they see fit.

Mr Varadkar did say, however, that a proposal to allow abortions for up to 12 weeks after inception may be a step to far for the wider public. 

Also speaking after a two hour cabinet discussion on the issue the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten, said he wanted to see proposed legislation on abortion, before making his views on the matter public.

Earlier: Justice Minister says 'I support repeal,' after Cabinet meets on 8th Amendment

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has joined Cabinet colleagues in calling for Ireland's abortion laws to be liberalised in the upcoming referendum later this year, writes Juno McEnroe.

Minister Flanagan said he backed Oireachtas Committee recommendations to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the part of the Constitution that protects the life of the unborn.

His comments come after the Cabinet today discussed the recent committee report, which recommends allowing unrestricted abortions in pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

He said: "I support repeal. I don't believe this is an issue that should be in our Constitution. I want to acknowledge that this has been a very challenging issue, a very sensitive issue over the past 35 years.

"I believe it is important now in the context given in the partnership programme for government that we move on towards the next stage. The Dáil and Seanad will be discussing the issue next week.

"I want to hear the views of everybody across government, across parliament. But I believe that we must have this debate carried out in atmosphere of calm, an atmosphere of acknowledging that it is going to be very, very difficult to achieve consensus, that there will be people with differing views, differing opinions."

His colleague, Business Minister Heather Humphreys, said she wanted to consult with her voters in Cavan-Monaghan and particularly women on the matter.

She said: "I continue to consult with the people of my constituency. And I particularly want to consult further with the women because at the end of the day it will be women who are most impacted on this issue."

She paid tribute to the committee who had done the report, saying: "This of course is a very complex and a very emotive issue."

The Fine Gael parliamentary party is to due to debate the abortion referendum and individual views next Monday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said TDs and senators will be allowed a free vote on the issue. The Government wants to hold the referendum either in May or early June.

- Irish Examiner


 

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