Ireland announces date for abortion referendum

Ireland will hold a referendum on whether abortion should be legalized on May 25, Irish Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy announced Wednesday.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar had earlier pledged to hold a vote to change the constitution, which guides the Catholic-majority country’s abortion laws, some of the strictest in the developed world.

Murphy tweeted: “I’ve just signed the order for polling day on the referendum on repealing the 8th amendment to the constitution.”

The amendment places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with the mother’s right to life.

Ireland is among just 50 countries that allow terminations only when a woman’s life is at risk, according to the Pew Research Center. Incest or rape do not provide legal grounds for abortion in Ireland. Six other countries ban abortion under all circumstances.

Irish voters approved the 8th amendment in 1983, but calls to repeal it have been steadily growing in recent years.

Irish MPs, nonetheless, have debated the issue in Parliament, while anti-abortion groups vow to protect the amendment.

Abortion was not legal before the 8th amendment, but the laws were ambiguous and ignited debate in the 1970s and 80s, as religious leaders led a campaign to clamp down on the liberalization of Irish society.