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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Bishop calls for abortion referendum

Abortion remains illegal in the Republic of Ireland
A Catholic bishop in the Republic of Ireland has called on the government to hold a referendum on abortion immediately.

Bishop of Killala, County Mayo, Dr Thomas Finnegan said abortion was the only type of capital punishment allowed by the Irish courts.

He said a referendum on abortion was more urgent than the forthcoming referendum in the Irish Republic to remove the death penalty from the Irish constitution.

Dr Finnegan made his comments in a pastoral letter, which come in stark contrast to the teaching of the Catholic church which has fiercely opposed any moves to legalise abortion.

Controversial issue Abortion is illegal in the Irish Republic except in special circumstances where the life of the mother is threatened.

None of the country's hospitals carries out terminations.

However, since a 1995 referendum, women are entitled to receive information about abortion clinics and are able to travel abroad for terminations.

In 1997, a major political and legal row erupted over a decision by a Irish state health board to bring a 13-year-old traveller rape victim to Britain for an abortion.

And in 1992, the country's Supreme Court ruled in a similar case involving a girl, aged 14, that abortion was legal in Ireland if there is a "real and substantial risk to the mother" including suicide.

'Abortion ship' report

Meanwhile, it has been reported that a Dutch pro-abortion group are planning to bring an 'abortion ship' to the Northern Ireland coast in June, it has been reported.

According to the Sunday Times, the ship, equipped to carry out 20 terminations a day, is on its way to Dublin and is planning a visit to the province.

The ship is likely to meet with stiff opposition from pro-life campaigners, but doctors behind the facility told the newspaper they were acting within international law.

The Dutch group, Women on Waves Foundation, said the facility is to promote reproductive health care.

It said a medical team on board is to offer abortion advice, contraception and information and training for doctors.

The group said they want to highlight the high number of Irish women who travel to Britain for abortions every year.

Pro-life groups in the Republic of Ireland are thought to have invited the ship to Dublin port.

It is believed the ship can legally perform terminations "where medically appropriate" once it is moored 12 miles from the Irish coast.

The newspaper said dates for a visit to Northern Ireland had still to be confirmed.

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09 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Abortion law 'clarification' sought
20 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
No change to abortion law
30 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
PUP calls for extension of abortion act
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