Government publishes policy paper on abortion

Health Minister Simon Harris has opened up the debate

Health minister Simon Harris said if people vote no on the issue, it will be impossible for the government to address issues around female healthcare in Ireland.

If the Irish people vote to repeal the law, the government said it would introduce unrestricted access to abortions during the first trimester.

"In particular I am mindful of the women whose most painful, most personal stories we know because it forced them to court, to other countries, to courts in other countries" he said.

"This work has so far established that provision of free access to contraception methods, which are now limited to those with eligibility through the Primary Care Reimbursement Services, would require enabling primary legislation", said Harris.

Update 6.10pm: A number of pro-choice and pro-life rallies have been held in Dublin today as the Government signed off on a referendum bill.

It will say there should be abortion without specific indication for up to 12 weeks - meaning abortion will be allowed for any reason within the first trimester.

"If this Oireachtas facilitates a referendum, I will be casting my ballot for repeal and asking others to do the same because I can not live any longer with a law that sees a woman or a girl who has been brutally raped forced to continue her pregnancy or travel to another country if she can not", he said.

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This is likely to be between 48 and 72 hours.

Abortion for a woman who procures one for herself would not be criminalised.

Harris completed his statement by commended the bill to the house saying: "I don't like labels but I consider myself pro-life. I share the desire to see the unborn protected in every way possible".

While he said the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment were focused on the discussion and recommendations on the issue of abortion, it also raised issues such as free access to contraception, comprehensive sex education, obstetric care and counselling.

Mr Harris told the Dail he was mindful of the impact of the Eighth Amendment since it was inserted 35 years ago.

Fianna Fáil's Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher believes the current laws are unfair.

Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: "The legislative framework outlined today would broadly realise women's rights, and meet the State's human right obligations".

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