The Taoiseach has told the Dáil that the Government has agreed an "indicative timeline" for a standalone referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution next May or June.
The vote early next summer will be one of seven referendums that the Government is planning to hold over the next two years.
Leo Varadkar said the referendum on abortion would follow on from the recommendations of an all-party Oireachtas committee considering the issue, which is to report by Christmas.
Taoiseach tells the Dáil the Government has agreed an "indicative timeline" for a standalone referendum on the Eighth Amendment pic.twitter.com/aiW3HUy7ii— RTÉ News (@rtenews) September 26, 2017
Fianna Fáil TD and committee member Anne Rabbitte, however, has raised fears that the committee will not be able to complete its work by its 20 December deadline.
She said the committee will make every effort to meet its deadline but it is a slow process and this may not prove possible.
Should the committee fail to produce a report on time, it could delay the necessary legislation required to pave the way for a referendum to take place in the middle of next year.
However, Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan, who is also a member of the committee, this evening said she believes there is no reason the work of the committee cannot be done by the deadline.
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, she said the committee will issue a recommendation, though she added that the final agreement may not entirely be a consensus.
Ms O'Sullivan said that she believes the referendum should be held in May or June.
She said: "I believe that the committee has a very good plan - we've all agreed on timeframes etc, and I see no reason why we can't do our work within that timeframe.
"We've had the summer to read the various pieces of material that we've been given, we obviously have the evidence that has been given to the Citizens' Assembly, so I think that is a very realistic timeframe."
Sinn Féin has also said it believes that a referendum on the issue in the middle of next year is possible.
The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the equal right to life for the mother and the unborn.
The Oireachtas committee has been tasked with examining proposals to repeal that amendment on foot of recommendations by the Citizens' Assembly.
In advance of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee, Minister for Health Simon Harris has established a working group to liaise with the Attorney General's office on all available legislative and constitutional options.
The Government has also agreed an indicative timetable for a number of other referendums.
Further referendums on Blasphemy (Article 40.6.1) and "Woman's life within the home" (Article 41.2.1) are planned for October 2018 along with a vote to have directly-elected mayors.
There are also referendums scheduled for 2019.
These include one to reduce to two years the time couples would have to live apart before getting a divorce.
Proposals to allow Irish people living abroad to vote in Presidential Elections and to reduce the voting age to 16 are also planned for June 2019
Each referendum will be subject to passage of bills by the Houses of the Oireachtas and formal confirmation of the polling date.
The Government is also still considering the holding of a referendum on keeping Irish Water in public ownership.
The referendums to be held in October 2018 could be held on the same date as a presidential election if one is held.
It is proposed that the June 2019 referendums would be held on the same day as the local and European elections.
A date for a referendum on a Unified Patent Court has been deferred.
It is also understood it has been decided not to proceed with a referendum to give the office of Ceann Comhairle constitutional standing as there have been reforms in this area and the proposal to strengthen Oireachtas committee powers is still under consideration.