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Health Minister Simon Harris was outlining his policy statement on the type of abortion services that would be provided should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.

If the Irish population vote to repeal the amendment, abortions will be allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Global Positioning System and other health practitioners will be licensed to prescribe the abortion pill.

Ministers approved the bill in the last hour, and the next stage will require the Dáil and Seanad to give their approval before a date can be fixed for the referendum.

Currently, terminations are allowed only when the life of the mother is at risk, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison. "Retaining the Eighth Amendment will not prevent it from happening". Mr Harris announced that he has asked the Chief Medical Officer to look into the feasibility, and in particular the cost, of a State-run contraception service.

"If this Oireachtas facilitates a referendum, I will be casting my ballot for repeal and asking others to do the same because I can not live any longer with a law that sees a woman or a girl who has been brutally raped forced to continue her pregnancy or travel to another country if she can not", he said.

In line with the parliamentary committee's recommendation, the bill proposes to permit termination up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without specific indication.

The initial judgment related to an immigration case in which a Nigerian man sought to revoke a 2008 deportation order in proceedings initiated eight years later on the basis that his Irish partner was at that time pregnant with their child.

"This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves".

Fianna Fail's health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said that Irish women were being treated as second class citizens and it could no longer continue. "It is clear beyond any doubt from today's announcement from Government that a vote for repeal is a vote for abortion on demand up to birth", she added.

The decision comes just days after Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that the unborn child has no constitutional rights other than the right to life, a decision pro-lifers say highlights the importance of defeating the referendum.