Dublin (AFP) – Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 on whether to alter its constitution to legalise abortion, Health Minister Simon Harris said on Wednesday.
The move follows the Irish Senate voting in favour of holding the poll by a wide margin Tuesday night.
“Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment will take place on Friday, 25th May. The people will have their say,” Harris tweeted.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar last year won leadership of the governing centre-right Fine Gael party after campaigning on same-sex marriage and liberalising abortion laws in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
The election of Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay leader, was seen as a watershed moment on the socially conservative island.
The referendum will take place exactly three months before the visit of Pope Francis, the first visit to the country by a pontiff since John Paul II went there in 1979.
The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution recognises the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.
Abortion is illegal unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, and a woman convicted of having an illegal termination faces 14 years imprisonment.
However, women are free to travel abroad for abortions and thousands do so every year, mainly to England.
Amnesty International welcomed the announcement, calling it “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Ireland to put in place laws which respect the #humanrights of women & girls”.
Leaders from the Church of Ireland, an Anglican denomination, urged voters “to think through the issues involved carefully”.
“There is, for Christians, a very clear witness in the Scriptures that all human life, including before physical birth, has a sacred dignity in the eyes of God,” they said.
There have already been five referendums related to the issue, the first in 1983.
But in recent years the Irish parliament had stalled proposals to hold another poll, as well as legislation to relax the laws allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.