- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

DUBLIN A referendum on legalizing abortion next month is expected to bitterly divide Irish voters, with the opposition pressing for a "no" vote.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has called the referendum designed to allow doctors to perform abortions on women whose lives are endangered by the pregnancy.
The referendum is scheduled for March 6.
Abortion still is illegal in Ireland, although thousands of women travel each year to British abortion clinics.
Mr. Ahern's government, strongly supported by the Roman Catholic Church and pro-life groups, is backing a referendum proposal that abortions should be granted to women whose lives would be endangered by the act of giving birth.
The same right would not be extended to women who threaten to commit suicide unless they get an abortion. Opposition parties, who favor a more liberal law, have pledged to campaign "vigorously" against the proposal.
The March vote is an attempt by Mr. Ahern to end confusion after a controversial ruling by the Irish Supreme Court in 1992.
After suicide threats by a 14-year-old girl seeking to abort in Britain, the court ruled that abortion in Ireland would be justified where continued pregnancy could endanger the woman's life.
Pro-life campaigners have fought since then to exclude threatened suicides from such a legal loophole.
The decision to call Ireland's third referendum on abortion only weeks before general elections in May is fraught with risk for Mr. Ahern. Last week, a court rejected claims that the government's proposal was unconstitutional, but the opposition Labor Party has pledged to fund a high-profile campaign for a "no" vote.
In the latest polls, 39 percent of voters approve of the government's proposal, 34 percent disapprove and 21 percent are undecided.
The proposed law will not restrict the right of pregnant women to travel to Britain for abortions. Last December, the Irish government set up a crisis agency to try to dissuade the growing number of Irish women from seeking abortions in Britain.
The number giving Irish addresses at British abortion clinics rose from 3,320 in 1980 to 6,391 in 2000.

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