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Irish lawmakers vote to allow 'life saving' abortions

Ireland's parliament has voted to allow abortion under certain conditions. Triggered by the death of a pregnant woman last year, the move follows months of heated debate on an issue that has divided the country.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to legalize abortions in cases where doctors deem the woman's life at risk from her pregnancy. After a marathon session, legislators applauded the 127-31 vote.

A handful of abortion rights activists gathered outside parliament cheered the bill's passage, while a larger number of anti-abortion advocates prayed and applauded members of parliament who opposed the bill when they exited the building.

Watch video 01:16

Permitted for the first time

Lawmakers had begun the lengthy debate on the measure on Wednesday morning during a session that lasted until 5 a.m. Thursday. They then broke for sleep and reconvened later in the day in a second session that ran past midnight.

Because of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's majority in parliament, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was expected to pass. However, five of Kenny's conservative Fine Gael party members opposed the law, illustrating the issue's divisiveness. All five members were expelled from the party's parliamentary group and were barred from running for re-election as Fine Gael candidates.

Longtime Kenny ally Lucinda Creighton, once tipped as a possible party leader, was one of the Fine Gael members who refused to vote for the bill. She immediately resigned from her post as Europe minister.

"When it comes to something that is essentially a matter of life and death, I think it is not really possible to compromise," Creighton said in televised comments.

Controversial issue

Anti-abortion activists were particularly upset about the bill's provision permitting an abortion if a three-doctor panel agrees the woman would commit suicide if denied a termination.

Listen to audio 05:57

Irish abortion - trying to change the law

The bill was drafted after a miscarrying woman was denied an abortion last year and later died of blood poisoning. Her death reopened the two-decades-long debate in Ireland over drafting legislation in line with a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that life-saving abortions, including to prevent suicides, should be legal in the predominantly-Catholic country.

The week leading up to the vote, 35,000 anti-abortion activists had marched in Dublin. Kenny said he had received abusive plastic fetuses and letters written in blood, while opponents of the bill labeled him a murderer and his private residence was picketed by protesters wearing skeleton masks.

Supporters of the law, meanwhile, have argued that it does not go far enough because it prohibits abortions in cases of fetal abnormalities or cases of incest or rape.

Figures released Thursday show that almost 4,000 women in Ireland traveled to England or Wales last year to seek an abortion. Hundreds more have performed their own abortions at home using miscarriage-inducing pills ordered over the Internet.

dr/lw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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