A pro-life group has slammed Irish premier Leo Varadkar after he said he will campaign for abortion laws in the Republic to be “liberalised”.
A referendum will take place this summer on whether to repeal a constitutional amendment that effectively bans pregnancy terminations.
The Taoiseach said his views had “evolved” since 2014 when he described himself as “pro-life” while acknowledging that current laws were too restrictive.
Ahead of the proposed referendum, Mr Varadkar said he would be campaigning for the country’s near-total ban on abortion to be changed.
“I believe Ireland’s abortion laws are too restrictive and need to be liberalised,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But anti-abortion advocacy group The Pro Life Campaign said that “while the Taoiseach’s decision doesn’t come as a surprise, it is nonetheless deeply regrettable that the leader of our country is going to campaign for the removal of the most basic human right, namely the right to life itself, from our Constitution”.
PLC spokesperson Cora Sherlock added: “Dismantling the Eight Amendment is presented by some as a liberal and enlightened move. But when you look behind the rhetoric, there’s nothing progressive about it at all.
“What repeal or replacing the 8th Amendment would actually involve, if voted through, is stripping unborn babies of all meaningful protections which in turn would inevitably lead to countless babies having their lives deliberately ended with the full sanction of the State. That is the simple and stark reality.”
Mr Varadkar said his own views on the matter had “evolved” in recent years, adding: “I think sometimes that term - pro-life and pro-choice - can be misunderstood.
“I think even people who are in favour of abortion in certain circumstances are pro-life, I still believe in life, but I understand that there circumstances under which pregnancies can’t continue.”
Last December, a report by a specially convened Oireachtas committee found that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.
It 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.
On Friday an opinion poll by the Irish Times found a majority (56%) of 1200 Irish people surveyed were in favour of repealing the clause and allowing abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.