Speed Reads

Abortion Debate

Ireland will hold a referendum on loosening abortion laws

On Monday night, Ireland's Cabinet gave approval for a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution, which outlaws abortion except when a mother's life is at stake, giving equal legal protection to mother and fetus. Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said after the meeting that the referendum will be held in late May. Ireland approved the eighth amendment in 1983, giving Ireland some of the strictest abortion laws in the developed world.

Varadkar said for the first time that he will campaign in support of the referendum, calling it a personal decision that does not necessarily reflect the stance of his administration. "We already have abortion — unsafe, unregulated, unlawful," he said. "We cannot continue to export our problem and import our solution." Almost 4,000 Irish women — including from Northern Ireland — traveled to England and Wales to obtain an abortion in 2016, according to U.K. government statistics, CNN notes. "I know this will be a difficult decision for the Irish people to make," the prime minister added. "For most of us, it is not a black-and-white issue — it is very grey."

A 56 percent majority of Irish voters support changing the eighth amendment, as do a solid majority of Irish lawmakers, according to a recent Irish Times poll. Anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates said they will study the wording of the referendum very closely.