Image copyright REUTERS

The prime minister of Ireland has told the BBC he will campaign for the country’s near-total ban on abortion to be liberalised.

Leo Varadkar had previously said the laws were “too restrictive”.

A referendum will take place this summer on whether to repeal a constitutional amendment that effectively bans pregnancy terminations.

The wording of the referendum question is yet to be decided.

Ireland’s eighth amendment places the right to life of an unborn child on a par with that of a mother, meaning abortion is banned even when the pregnancy is the result of rape or when the foetus has a fatal abnormality.

Campaigners have long called for the laws to be changed, and last year a Citizens’ Assembly and a cross-party parliamentary committee both recommended removing the ban.

The committee recommended that abortions should be allowed without restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Presentational grey line

Abortion in the Republic of Ireland

The Republic of Ireland has a near total ban on abortion.

In 2013, abortion was permitted for the first time in the country under certain conditions – when doctors deem that a woman is at risk of taking her life, or that her life is at risk due to medical complications.

Media captionAbortion in Ireland: ‘I had to wait for a stillbirth’

The law does not allow for terminations in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a foetal abnormality.

The law was introduced in the wake of the case of an Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, who died in a Galway hospital in 2012 after she was refused an abortion.

The eighth amendment to the Republic’s constitution, introduced in 1983, “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn”.

In what was known as the X Case of 1992, a 14-year-old rape victim was initially prevented from travelling to England to terminate her pregnancy.

This ruling was overturned by the Irish Supreme Court and a referendum approved a further update to the constitution, stating that the eighth amendment did not restrict the freedom to travel to another state.

Presentational grey line

In 2016, 3,265 women and girls gave Republic of Ireland addresses when accessing abortion services at clinics in England and Wales, according to UK Department of Health statistics.