The Minister for Health has said that unregulated, unrestricted abortion is already happening in Ireland because of the availability of abortion pills.

Simon Harris was speaking at the conclusion of a debate that ran over several weeks on the report of the Oireachtas Committee that examined the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Last December, the committee voted to recommend repealing the Eighth Amendment. It also voted in favour of legalising terminations of pregnancy up to 12 weeks with no restriction.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Harris said: "Abortion is a reality in Ireland today. Unregulated abortion is a reality in Ireland. Abortion is unregulated in Ireland. The Eighth Amendment has not changed that fact.

"Far from providing certainty, it has left women and doctors in impossible situations alone in the care of other countries."

He told TDs that these are facts that must be faced.

He said he brought the heads of the bill to Cabinet, and it would be published at the beginning of March, which will allow a referendum to be held in May.

Mr Harris said if anything is to change, the referendum must pass and the Eighth Amendment needed to be repealed if anything is to change for Irish women.

He said he is currently working on drafting legislation, which will follow a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, if that is the choice of the voters.

Mr Harris told the Dáil that he would publish a policy paper at the beginning of next month to outline what the legislation will include so that public and political debate can be informed.

He said the proposals are to make terminations safely and legal available in more circumstances than are available now, but he said terminations would be restricted, such as the involvement of a medical practitioner. 

Mr Harris also said the Government would apply the ancillary recommendations of the report.

Doherty says Eighth Amendment has 'criminalised' women

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told the Dáil that he supports a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, saying it has effectively criminalised women who, for whatever reason, made a conscious decision to end a pregnancy. 

Mr Doherty said he had his own personal views on abortion, but his views were no greater than anyone and the voice of the people would win out.

He said his party had been unambiguous in their support of repealing the Eighth Amendment, adding that this reflects overwhelming view of their members and of citizens.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said he worried about the 12-week recommendation of the committee.

"The 12 weeks is a big worry to a lot of people, to put it bluntly," he said.

Mr Fitzmaurice also said there is a genuine worry about the Oireachtas deciding on the issue "because down the road we don't know how far this will go".

He also called on TDs to show leadership, regardless of what side of the argument they are on and said it was important that both sides were heard.