Ireland to draft abortion law within weeks: minister

Dublin (AFP) –


Ireland's government is planning to draw up a new abortion law within weeks after a historic referendum overturned a constitutional ban, Health Minister Simon Harris said on Tuesday.

Speaking to public broadcaster RTE, Harris said he hoped the new law would be enacted by the end of the year.

"I'm determined to finish the job that the people have given me to do," he said while arriving for a cabinet meeting.

But he said there should be "realism" about the scale of the task of introducing abortion in Ireland, which would need changes to the healthcare sector and to medical legislation.

"I would hope that we can publish a bill in the coming weeks" after which it would be put to parliament for approval, he said.

"I'm determined to get it right for women, to get it right for doctors and that's why it will take until the end of the year."

Ireland voted by 66 percent in favour of repealing a ban on abortions after an emotional campaign in which women of all ages shared stories about having to travel to England for the procedure.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a former doctor who used to oppose terminations, called the referendum a "quiet revolution".

"No more stigma. The veil of secrecy is lifted. No more isolation. The burden of shame is gone," he said on Saturday.

The proposals put forward by the government would see abortion allowed on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and between 12 and 24 weeks in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or a risk of serious harm to the mother's health.

- Blow for Catholic Church -

Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, and Micheal Martin, head of Fianna Fail, Ireland's other main party, both supported a pro-choice vote but some lawmakers in their parties oppose it.

The legislation is likely to win overwhelming approval given the scale of the 'yes' vote in the referendum.

Campaigners broke down in tears, crowds cheered and champagne corks popped as the result was announced in Dublin on Saturday, with 39 of Ireland's 40 constituencies voting in favour of removing the ban.

The result was another hammer blow to the Roman Catholic Church's authority in Ireland, coming three years after referendum voters backed legalising same-sex marriage.

Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on abortion following a 1983 referendum. Under current legislation, terminating a pregnancy is only acceptable if a mother's life is in danger. Otherwise, it carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.

The ban has led to thousands of women travelling each year to neighbouring Britain, where terminations are legal, or increasingly turning to abortion pills sold online.

Since 1983, around 170,000 Irish women have gone abroad for terminations.

In the UK, abortion is legal on the British mainland but remains outlawed in Northern Ireland and dozens of British lawmakers have called for a change in the law.