- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

DUBLIN Voters narrowly rejected a proposed amendment to Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said yesterday, confirming a significant defeat for his government and Catholic Church leaders.

The proposals would have amended the constitution's ban to allow abortions if a woman's life was at risk but would have barred using threats of suicide by a pregnant woman as grounds for abortion.

Mr. Ahern's conservative government backed the measure, and the Roman Catholic Church campaigned heavily in its favor, saying that despite the new exception the proposal would strengthen the prohibition on abortion.

With the defeat, lawmakers will be under new pressure to pass legislation called for by the Supreme Court to allow abortions in all cases when the mother's life is endangered including by suicide.

The Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill was rejected on a nationwide "no" vote of 50.42 percent, according to official results.

Mr. Ahern conceded defeat, telling reporters outside his Dublin office that his "honest and genuine attempt" to strengthen abortion laws "has been narrowly defeated."

"I'm disappointed, but I'm a democrat," added Mr. Ahern, who faces re-election within a few months.

Opposition was heavy in urban areas, particularly the cosmopolitan capital, Dublin, where a third of Ireland's population lives. There was strong support for the measure in conservative rural areas, where the Catholic Church retains considerable influence.

Overall about 42 percent of nearly 3 million registered voters cast a ballot in Wednesday's vote, but turnout was considerably higher in most urban areas.

Confusion about the impact of the amendment was evident among anti-abortion activists, some of whom supported the measure while others said it wasn't restrictive enough.

Abortion-rights proponents opposed the measure, in part because of the bar on abortions in cases of threatened suicide. The measure would have also imposed criminal punishments of up to 12 years in prison for those seeking abortions when there was no danger to the woman's life.

The referendum sought to resolve a legal tangle over a landmark 1992 judgment by the Supreme Court, Ireland's highest legal authority.

In 1983, voters approved an anti-abortion constitutional amendment that said pregnant women and the unborn should have their equal right to life protected.

In its 1992 ruling, the court said abortions should be legalized in Ireland in instances where continued pregnancy could kill a woman including from her own threats to commit suicide because otherwise both mother and unborn child would die.

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