LONDON (AP) — Ireland's premier has urged his country to show compassion as he launched a campaign to overturn some of Europe's strictest abortion rules.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Saturday that Ireland's May 25 referendum on whether to lift a constitutional ban on most abortions is an opportunity to "put compassion at the center of our laws." He said the current restrictions do not prevent abortions, but "just lets us sweep it under the carpet."

Abortion in largely Catholic Ireland is legal only in rare cases when a woman's life is in danger. Thousands of Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.

Voters will be asked whether they want to retain or repeal the constitutional ban. If it's repealed, parliament would be responsible for creating new abortion laws.