Updated: 29/01/18 : 07:25:44
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Final plans for Eight Amendment Referendum to be agreed by Cabinet today

The Government is to meet to hammer out final details on an anticipated referendum on the country's restrictive abortion laws.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is expected to outline the Government's approach after the specially convened cabinet meeting in Government Buildings this evening.

Mr Varadkar, who says he will campaign to liberalise the law, has said while ministers are able to take different positions on the contentious matter, the Cabinet will adopt a collective position.

Terminations are currently only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, with the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

A referendum on the issue is expected in late May or early June.

Last December, a report by a Dáil committee found that the section of the constitution that confers equal rights on the mother and unborn child - the Eighth Amendment - was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

That followed recommendations from members of the Citizens' Assembly to liberalise the law on terminations.

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.

It also called for expectant mothers to be allowed an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy if doctors diagnosed a foetal abnormality that was likely to result in death before or shortly after birth.

The referendum will focus on the fate of the Eighth Amendment, not on the specifics on how the law would change if the constitution was altered.

However, the Government is expected to outline proposals for a potential law change that it would put before the Dáil in the event of the Eighth Amendment being repealed.

Any draft legislation would only become law if the Dáil voted for it, and that is not a foregone conclusion, given the Fine Gael coalition is a minority administration and TDs will vote on conscience.

The outcome of the referendum could also prompt a Supreme Court challenge over whether the Constitution as a whole contains an implied fundamental right for the unborn, on top of the specific terms of the Eighth Amendment.