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Ireland to vote on abortion in May

Abortion has long been a divisive issue in once stridently Catholic Ireland.

Protesters in Dublin

Ireland will vote in a referendum on May 25 on whether or not to liberalise abortion laws, the government said on Wednesday, offering voters the first opportunity in 35 years to overhaul one of the world's strictest regimes.

Voters will be asked if they wish to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution that was inserted in 1983 to enshrine the equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child, and to instead enable parliament to set the laws.

"After weeks and months of politicians debating the issue, now the people of Ireland get the chance to have their say," Health Minister Simon Harris said after the date was announced.

Abortion bill

A hotly debated abortion bill that allows women in Ireland to terminate pregnancies in very limited circumstances was passed by legislators in July 2013. 

Unlike in England, Scotland and Wales, abortions are only legal in limited circumstances that threaten the life of the mother.

Campaign groups, including Amnesty International, have said the penalties for illegal abortions are too severe and violate women's rights.

In 2013, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health, raised concerns about the treatment of women in Ireland, saying that criminalising abortion discriminates against them, particularly the poor and minorities.


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