Irish women are having abortions regardless of a near-total constitutional ban on terminating pregnancies, the country's health minister said Tuesday in defense of a planned referendum that will ask voters whether the amendment that bars abortion in almost all cases should be repealed. Health Minister Simon Harris said on Ireland's RTE television that he is beginning work on a proposed abortion law that would be submitted to parliament if the May referendum removes the constitutional ban, per the AP. The legislation would allow abortions during the first trimester, he said, calling abortion "a reality for Irish women." He added, "I cannot close my eyes and block my ears to the fact that 3,265 of our citizens traveled to the UK in 2016" for abortions they could not obtain legally in Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced Monday that the referendum in late May will ask voters if they want to keep the anti-abortion amendment or repeal it so parliament can consider new legislation. The amendment enacted by referendum in 1983 makes predominantly Roman Catholic Ireland the most restrictive country in Europe on abortion. It commits authorities to defend equally "the right to life of the unborn" and "the equal right to life of the mother." Varadkar, who leads the center-right Fine Gael party, said he would campaign to ease the abortion ban. It represents a change of heart for the prime minister, who had earlier described himself as anti-abortion.