Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar discussed with his cabinet on Monday setting the terms of a referendum aimed at repealing a constitutional ban on abortions.
The Irish constitution’s eighth amendment gives an unborn fetus the right to life equal to that of its mother. Ireland’s legal system has interpreted this as a ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities.
The constitution can only be amended by a majority vote and the government has promised to hold a national referendum on the topic later this summer.
Prime Minister Varadkar’s announcement came as a shock to many Irish citizens, mainly due to his own party’s inability to reach a consensus on the issue.
If the ban is repealed, legislation will have to be passed that would permit abortions under some circumstances. An all-party parliamentary committee in December voted in favour of permitting abortions up to the fourth trimester of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities.
Thousands of Irish women are forced to travel to the UK each year to have an abortion. Data from the United Kingdom’s health care service for 2015 showed that at least 3,400 Irish women had gone to Britain to terminate their pregnancies.