The Government has finalised the decision to hold the abortion referendum before the end of May 2018.

A late Cabinet meeting today has agreed that the question would ask voters to ‘Repeal’ and ‘Enable’. The question will be put to the people on whether they want to Delete Article 40.3.3 and that “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”

‘Safe, legal and rare’ is the planned approach to abortion announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tonight, should the repeal go ahead.

“We are asking people to untie our hands and liberalise our laws,” he said.

Mr Varadkar succinctly outlined the current situation in Ireland: “We know that thousands of Irish women – from every county in Ireland – go abroad for abortions every year. We know that many women are obtaining abortion pills through the post to end their pregnancies. So we already have abortion in Ireland, but it is unsafe, unregulated and illegal.”

“We cannot persist with situation where women in crisis risk their lives with unregulated medicines.”

He added: “I believe this is a decision about whether we want to continue to criminalise and stigmatise our sisters, our co-workers and our friends or whether we want to take a collective act of leadership to show empathy and compassion.”

Mr Varadkar said the issue ‘can never be explained in black and white’ and that his personal views have evolved over time.

He said that while he was Minister for Health, he became convinced that abortion had “no place in our Constitution.”

On the issue of allowing unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, he said he supports it and it is now a matter for the Oireachtas to debate.

He said the pill which brings on a miscarriage in early pregnancy will not be available on demand and will only be supplied by a registered GP.

“If the referendum is passed, a doctor-led, safe and legal system for the termination of pregnancy will be introduced. Safe, legal and rare. No longer an article in the Constitution, but rather a private and personal matter for women and doctors.”

Health Minister Simon Harris has been allowed to draft a bill to legislate on abortion ahead of the public vote. With the ‘Enable’ element of the referendum, the government will ask the people to insert a clause in the constitution which will allow the government to legislate on abortion. This bill will be approved by the courts before enactment.

Minister Katherina Zappone said that, as an independent woman, she was full of emotion tonight.

It is my firm hope we will have a respectful debate based on the facts,” she added.