Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that the unborn has no rights under the Constitution other than the right to life in the Eighth Amendment triggers a set of circumstances that will culminate in a referendum before the summer.
Cabinet to decide on final wording
A special Cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow, when ministers will be asked to approve the final wording of the referendum that will be put to the people, most likely before the end of May.
This is likely to mirror closely the draft wording previously agreed in which it was decided that the people would be asked to delete Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution and insert the following wording: "That provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy."
The final wording will be brought to the Cabinet tomorrow by the Minister for Health Simon Harris.
A referendum bill will be produced after the meeting. This will include technical wording making provision for the referendum to be held. It will also include the wording to be put to the people in a referendum.
This will be a short piece of legislation and, like all legislation, it will be produced in both Irish and English.
Once the referendum bill is published it will be initiated in the Dáil and a debate can begin. This will either happen tomorrow evening or on Friday.
The Oireachtas must pass this legislation before the referendum can be held.
It is expected that the debate will begin this week and continue after the St Patrick’s Day break, which takes place next week.
The bill will be put to a vote, but this is expected to pass easily since any vote is merely to facilitate the holding of a referendum.
Passing of the referendum bill
It is the hope of the Government that the referendum bill will pass through the Dáil before the end of March or in early April.
There must be a 30-day period between the bill being signed into law by the President and the holding of a referendum.
The Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised to introduce a paper that will set out the key policy statements that will be included in the legislation, which would be introduced by the Government if the referendum is passed by the people.
This policy paper will be published before the end of this week and is likely to be referenced by the Minister in his Dáil speech on the referendum bill.
It is understood the policy statements will be closely aligned to the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, which include allowing for the termination of pregnancy up to 12 weeks of gestation without specific indication.
It is also expected to include a provision to allow abortion in cases where the health of the woman is at risk, making no distinction between mental and physical health, but requiring the signature of two medical practitioners.
Draft heads of bill
Before the end of March, the Minister for Health will publish the draft heads of the bill that would be introduced by the Government if the referendum is passed by the people.
These will be more detailed than the policy paper and will form the first stage of legislation, but any legislation will not require the approval of the Dáil unless and until any referendum is passed by the people.
A referendum commission, which will produce literature, and run a public information campaign on the referendum can be established once the referendum bill is initiated in the Oireachtas (before the end of this week).
This is usually chaired by a judge.
While it may be established in the coming days, it cannot finalise the information material to be put into the public domain until the referendum bill has been passed by the Oireachtas.
Holding a referendum
The Government would like to hold the referendum on 25 May. However, this date is dependent on all stages of the referendum bill passing through the Dáil and Seanad before the last week of April.