Ireland’s Prime Minister has urged his country to vote “yes” in next month’s referendum to overturn strict abortion laws in the country.
Leo Varadkar said the repeal referendum on 25 May could represent a coming-of-age moment when the nation stops cold-shouldering those in crisis.
At the moment, the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983, gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn child.
Abortion is currently only available when a mother’s life is at risk and it is illegal for a woman to have an abortion even if there is a fatal foetal abnormality, or in the case of rape or incest.
Voters will be asked whether they want to remove the Eighth Amendment, and replace it with wording that would allow politicians to set Ireland’s abortion laws in the future.
During a speech in Dublin marking the start of the Yes campaign, Mr Varadkar drew on the experience of rape and child incest victims.
The Taoiseach said: “I am calling for a yes vote because I trust women and I trust doctors and instead of fearing the worst I choose to believe the best about us as a nation.
“I believe a yes vote will allow us to look our sisters, our friends and our families in the eye when for far too long we have looked away.
“Now is the time to change and to put compassion at the centre of our laws.”
He added: “In Ireland in 2018 we still export our problems and import our solutions, and in the Ireland of 2018 we still turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to our sisters, nieces, daughters, colleagues and friends when in need or when in crisis.”
The referendum campaign is likely to be fiercely debated.
Parts of Ireland are becoming increasingly secular, but the Catholic Church is among those campaigning for a No vote, those who argue that a baby’s life is sacrosanct.
A statement from Save the Eighth campaigners said Mr Varadkar’s position was too extreme, and said he had been unable to unite his governing Fine Gael party around his position.