Latest: Varadkar says late May Eighth Amendment referendum still on track

The cabinet has approved a draft bill to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

RTÉ News reports the proposed wording that would be inserted into the Constitution reads as follows: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies."

Update 10pm: The Taoiseach says they are still on track to hold an abortion referendum in late May.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says they will sign off on the draft bill in two weeks.

"The intention is to publish the bill in the first week in March but we need to get some further legal advice on the precise wording which we are confident is ok but we need to get some further advice on it," Mr Varadkar said.

"Also, on the place within the constitution where it should rest.

"But we would anticipate having that legislation ready in the first week of March."

Earlier: Groups react to draft bill for Eighth Amendment referendum

The Abortion Rights Campaign has welcomed this 'important step' toward the referendum.

ARC spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said: “While the 8th amendment remains in our constitution all pregnancies, wanted or not, are affected. A modern Ireland includes abortion access as part of a comprehensive pregnancy healthcare system.”

“The removal of the constitutional barrier to abortion care should allow for more progressive and compassionate healthcare for all pregnant people and we are confident the Oireachtas will continue to represent the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly and Joint Oireachtas Committee."

Ms Kavanagh confirmed that Abortion Rights Campaign will support the referendum and will be actively campaigning “to ensure that we move away from our dark past and create an Ireland that allows us all to make private healthcare decisions, free from judgement.”

The Pro-Life Campaign has said that no amount of spin from the Government can hide the fact that the proposal is 'abortion on demand'.

PLC spokesperson Dr Ruth Cullen said: “No amount of government spin can hide the fact that if passed this proposal would mean that babies would lose their lives and the door would be opened to wide-ranging abortion.

“For the first time in our history, an Irish government is proposing to remove the right to life from the most vulnerable and fragile members of society, namely unborn babies. Instead of attempting to present this as progressive and enlightened, the Government should be honest with the public and admit that the proposal is about ending lives not saving them.”

She concluded: “There is evidence that the public are growing uneasy with what is being proposed and I believe this trend will continue as the debate continues.”

Update 3.30pm: Cabinet approves draft bill for Eighth referendum

The Health Minister Simon Harris can now finalise the bill, which the government is expected to give final approval to in two weeks time.

The Taoiseach has said he is confident the timeline of holding a referendum on the Eighth at the end of May can still be met.

"For the first time since 1983 the Irish people are to have their say on the substantive issue of the 8th Amendment and whether it should be removed from our Constitution. This follows recommendations from the Citizens Assembly and the cross-party Oireachtas committee, as well as a Government decision that a referendum be held," Minister Harris said.

"That referendum will propose that Article 40.3.3 is deleted in its entirety and a clause inserted that makes it clear that the Oireachtas may legislate to regulate termination of pregnancy.

"It is important to remember that the Referendum must be passed, and the 8th Amendment repealed, if anything is to change for Irish women. We need to change the status quo, for this to happen we must repeal the 8th. It is important that we are clear that if the people of Ireland do not repeal article 40.3.3 we cannot legislate for fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest or women’s health.

"My Department is currently drafting legislation which would follow a repeal of the amendment. This legislation will be based on the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment. I intend to publish a policy paper at the beginning of March which will outline what that legislation will include.

"We have some very important – and busy - weeks ahead. I believe that as people reflect on the current situation in Ireland, where women are forced abroad to have a termination, where women are purchasing abortion pills illegally online and where women in extremely difficult situations are left isolated and neglected, that the Irish people will vote to repeal the 8th amendment."

The government is also waiting on a Supreme Court ruling this week to know if they can go ahead with the referendum as planned.

Update 10.13am: The Health Minister Simon Harris has described today's Cabinet meeting as "another step on the road".

Ministers are meeting to consider a draft referendum bill on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Minister Harris and Tánaiste Simon Coveney were staying tight-lipped when they arrived for this morning's Cabinet meeting together.

When asked if today was a big day in terms of the abortion referendum - Minister Harris had a very brief response, saying: "Another step on the road."

6.50am: Cabinet to consider wording of abortion referendum this morning

The wording of the abortion referendum will be considered by the Cabinet this morning.

They will examine a draft referendum bill being brought by the Minister for Health Simon Harris.

This draft bill sets out the question that may be asked to people in a referendum.

It will likely ask if people wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to provide for the termination of pregnancy in accordance with law.

Ministers will consider this first draft of the bill this morning, before making a final decision in two weeks' time.

After that Cabinet meeting on March 6 we should know what the exact question will be, and have a clearer guide on what proposed new abortion legislation would be if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

The Government plans to publish a policy paper outlining their intentions at the same time as the final referendum bill.

It will be in line with the Oireachtas Committee recommendations of abortion without restriction for up to 12 weeks, and provisions for fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother's health.

A spokesperson for the Government says they are on still on target to hold a referendum in late May.

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