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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Ireland to vote again on abortion issue
Ireland has the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe
By Dublin correspondent Mark Devenport

The Irish Government is planning to hold a new referendum on the issue of abortion.

If approved, new legislation will mean that risk of suicide by an expectant mother will no longer be considered grounds for terminating a pregnancy.

Critics say the government's proposal will further tighten the already strict restrictions on the right of Irish women to have abortions.

The new referendum, which is expected to be held in the spring of next year, is the third time Irish people have been called on to vote on abortion rights in the past two decades.

Illness let-out

Abortion is currently illegal in Ireland except in cases where there is a threat to the life of a pregnant woman.

A ruling by the Irish Supreme Court in the early 1990s widened that exception, extending it to cases where a woman was threatening to commit suicide.

The new wording would enable doctors to intervene in the case of serious physical illness but not in response to a suicide threat.

Holding the referendum will please some anti-abortion members of the Irish parliament, on whom the Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, relies to keep his coalition government in power.

But the proposal has been criticised by family planning advocates who say it does nothing for the 6,500 Irish women who travel to Britain each year to obtain the abortions which they cannot have at home.

The BBC's Louise Williams in Dublin
"Anti-abortion groups are back on the campaign trail"
See also:

26 Jun 01 | Europe
Ireland wavers on abortion
27 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Bishop calls for abortion referendum
09 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Abortion law 'clarification' sought
03 Oct 01 | Europe
Poland set for abortion battle
16 May 01 | Americas
House backs Bush on abortion
30 Jun 99 | World population
Viewpoints: Population control
05 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ireland
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