Grattan Bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin Ireland.

The Irish government has finalised the wording for the abortion referendum, which is set to be held in May.

The government approved the referendum bill in Dublin on Thursday, coinciding with International Woman’s Day.

In the referendum, voters will be asked if they want to repeal the eighth amendment, which declares that unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life.

“This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves. It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families,” said the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

“And it’s about trusting our doctors to decide when continuing with a pregnancy is a risk to the life or health of a woman.Above all it’s about trusting Irish people to consider this matter in depth, with compassion and empathy, as I know they will.”

Currently, the penalty for an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison and they are only allowed legally if the mother’s life is at risk from the pregnancy.

If the Irish population vote to repeal the amendment, abortions will be allowed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Ailbhe Smyth of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment said: “This is a historic and momentous day for Ireland, and for the women of Ireland in particular. It has been a very long time coming.

“Today is a significant milestone for the tens of thousands of supporters who have been campaigning for decades to remove the eighth from the constitution for once and for all. We need abortion care that is safe and regulated, in line with best medical practice, and today brings us a crucial step forward in trying to achieve this important goal.”

A change to the law would be a monumental step for Ireland, where since 1983 it has been estimated that 170,000 women have left the country to terminate pregnancies.