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Ireland Will Finally Hold A Referendum On Legalising Abortion In May

Abortion is currently illegal in almost all circumstances in Ireland. One campaigner said she had been "waiting for this just about all my adult life".

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The Irish government has agreed to hold a referendum on the possibility of legalising abortion.

The referendum will be held on 25 May, and voters will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on whether they wish to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, which currently prohibits abortion, and allow the government to legislate for abortion.

The date was announced by minister for housing and local government, Eoghan Murphy, after the referendum bill formally passed through all stages of the Oireachtas, Ireland's legislature.

Draft legislation agreed by the Irish government has proposed that abortion should be allowed in any circumstances up to 12 weeks, which recent polling has suggested the majority of the public would support.

In January, Ireland's prime minister, or taoiseach, Leo Varadkar confirmed the government's intention to hold a referendum on abortion, following a four-hour cabinet meeting in which ministers reached a unanimous decision to take steps to revise abortion law.

According to the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, abortion is currently illegal in almost all circumstances, unless the mother's life is in immediate danger.

The referendum will ask the Irish public whether they wish to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas – Ireland's legislature – to replace it with a more liberal abortion law.

The referendum is expected to be held before the end of May, and a date is likely to be confirmed in March. Varadkar said he was "confident this timeline could be met".

On Saturday, Varadkar told BBC Radio Four that he planned to campaign for Ireland's abortion laws to "liberalised," describing the current situation as “too restrictive”. Varadkar has previously described himself as "pro-life".

During Monday's press conference, Varadkar confirmed that he would campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. "My own views have evolved over time," he said. "Life experience does that."

"We know that women travel from all counties in Ireland for abortion," Varadkar said on Monday night.

We know that thousands of Irish women - from every county in Ireland - go abroad for abortions every year. We know… https://t.co/oGPI7H5rxk

This includes the thousands of women who travel from Ireland to England in order to access abortion. In recent years there has also been a significant increase in the number of women in Ireland illegally buying abortion pills online.

"We already have abortion in Ireland, but it's unregulated, unsafe, and unlawful... We cannot persist with a situation where women in need are risking their lives," he continued.

Varakdar added: "We can't export our problems and import our solutions."

He said the vote would be "a decision on whether we want to criminalise and stigmatise our sisters," adding that the Irish Constitution was no place for this moral question.

This is an important moment. Really important #repealthe8th https://t.co/Ov1NPyHX2V

Ireland's health minister Simon Harris will begin work on draft legislation for a new abortion law, which following recommendations from a dedicated government committee on repealing the Eighth Amendment could include unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

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

Ailbhe Smyth, convenor of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, who has campaigned for decades to bring about a referendum on abortion law, tweeted that she had been "waiting for this just about all my adult life".

"We welcome the government's announcement to hold a referendum," Cara Sanquest, of the London Ireland Abortion Rights campaign, told BuzzFeed News. "We stand with the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when he said that we can no longer export this issues, and import the solution."

Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

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