Referendum on Ireland's abortion laws to be held in May

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Ireland will hold a referendum on liberalising its restrictive abortion laws at the end of May, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced on Monday.

The Irish Independent reports that a unanimous decision has been reached by Irish ministers to hold a referendum on the repeal of article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which gives the unborn and the mother an equal right to life.

The prime minister added: 'It is a matter for people to make their own decision based on the evidence they hear, compassion and empathy and I want the debate to be respectful on all sides and it should never be personalized'. "The Eighth Amendment acknowledges this basic right to life; it doesn't claim to be its initiator - merely its protector", she said.

The Eighth Amendment, enshrined in the predominantly-Catholic country's constitution in 1983, can only be removed by referendum. The group's spokesperson, Dr. Ruth Cullen, said the referendum is "a very sad and serious moment for our country".

He said that with the co-operation of the House, "we can certainly have this done by the end of May" and preliminary moves were being made to establish a referendum commission so that it would be in place on time.

After 12 weeks, abortion would only be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or when a mother's life is at risk.

That followed recommendations from members of the Citizens' Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

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"In recent weeks many people, mainly men, have spoken about the personal journeys they have been on", Varadkar said.

But, Pro Life Campaign issued a release which referred to the Irish Government's decision "as bad as anyone could have envisaged: the removal of legal protection from unborn babies and providing for abortion on demand".

She added that the government can not disguise how its proposal is exclusively about stripping unborn babies of all meaningful legal protections.

'We already have abortion in Ireland, but it's unsafe, unregulated and unlawful and in my opinion, we can not continue to export our problems and import our solutions.

The clause issue has led to some criticism from opposition parties which wanted a straightforward repeal question to be asked in the referendum.

The Women's Equality party, a feminist political party in the United Kingdom, said they commended "the women in Ireland who have campaigned to make this referendum happen".

A firm majority of all voters said they would vote in favour of a constitutional change, with 56 percent voting that they would opt for reform.

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