Repealing Eighth Amendment could have ’unintended consequences’, warns Patrick O’Donovan

Repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution instead of replacing it with a revised version will leave too much uncertainty around Ireland’s future laws on abortion, a minister of state has warned.

Patrick O’Donovan said he will not support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in this summer’s anticipated referendum.

Outlining his position on the contentious issue, the minister of state at the Department of Finance expressed concern about removing the article without knowledge of how the law might change as a consequence.

The Government is set to imminently outline proposals to amend abortion laws if the Eighth Amendment were to fall in the referendum, potentially paving the way for a dramatic liberalisation of the current position.

But any draft legislation would only become law if the Dáil voted for it, and the outcome of the referendum could also prompt a Supreme Court challenge as to whether the Constitution as a whole contains an implied fundamental right for the unborn, on top of the specific terms of the Eighth Amendment.

Mr O’Donovan said the current state of the law was "not tolerable", but he warned a vote to repeal could have "unintended consequences".

"My own view is that when I go to the polling booth - and I accept the fact that there is going to be a referendum - I won’t support a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, based on the fact I believe it leaves too much uncertainty in relation to what’s going to happen," he said.

The Fine Gael TD told RTE’s The Week in Politics: "So I have too much uncertainty in my own head at the moment. I am not asking people to support me, I am not asking people to agree with me, I am not disagreeing with other people and I am respecting what other people’s views are - this is my view and I have been tormented actually to come to this decision."

Mr O’Donovan said he was not going to actively campaign on the issue.

However, his remarks emphasise how the abortion debate is set to divide opinion across Ireland. His boss, Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe, has indicated support for repeal and allowing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

On Saturday, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would campaign to liberalise the abortion laws.

Mr Varadkar is due to announce details on the Government’s position on the referendum after a Cabinet meeting in Dublin on Monday evening.

Mr Varadkar has said ministers will be free to oppose the Government on the referendum even though the Cabinet would have a "collective position" on the issue.

A referendum on the Eighth Amendment is expected in late May or early June.

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 purpose and should be repealed.

That followed recommendations from members of Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

The committee also recommended abortion 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.

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