Irish Government agrees to hold abortion referendum by the end of May

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"This evening, the cabinet gave formal approval to the holding of a referendum on abortion, which will be held at the end of May", Varadkar said at a press conference in Dublin.

Discussing his own views, he said: "I think in that period I think it's fair to say that my own views on this matter have evolved".

Catholic Bishop Kevin Doran, who is among those opposed to the liberalisation of laws, says the same arguments used to justify abortion will be used to justify ending the lives of the disabled or frail older people, state broadcaster RTE reports.

Ireland will hold a referendum asking voters if they want liberalise the republic's notoriously strict abortion laws, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced.

In the run up to the referendum, health minister Simon Harris will prepare and publish draft legislation proposing laws allowing for unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks.

Ireland's Union of Students have called on the government to hold the vote in May, saying any later date would potentially "create barriers" and cause a drop in the youth vote, due to exam schedules and summer holidays.

The Taoiseach and his ministers are expected to collectively agree on the issues mentioned above.

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Last December, a report by a specially convened Oireachtas committee found that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution - which was passed in 1983 and is referred to as the Eighth Amendment - was not fit for objective and should be repealed.

The country will vote on whether to repeal the amendment and replace it with a provision to allow the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

Under the Irish constitution, there is a near total ban on abortion.

The committee also recommended abortion be available up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision, and that the procedure should be allowed if the life or health of the woman was at risk.

"I believe Ireland's abortion laws are too restrictive and need to be liberalised", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. However, it will only be enacted if the people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The referendum would be held ahead of a visit by Pope Francis in August.