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Abortion not allowed for rape victim in Ireland

A judge has ruled that a pregnant 14-year-old who says she was raped cannot escape Ireland's ban on abortions by going to Britain.

Justice Declan Costello said in his written decision Monday he had no choice under Ireland's constitution, amended in 1983 to include an abortion ban long part of the legal code.

"It's very painful, distressing and tragic for the girl and her family," Costello said in a written order after a 45-minute private hearing.

Court officials said they expected the family, who was not identified, to appeal Costello's ruling to the Supreme Court.

The family had sought to overturn an order issued by the attorney general last week that blocked the girl from leaving Ireland to have an abortion.

The case is unlikely to have a significant effect on the several thousand Irish women who go elsewhere for abortions each year to get around Ireland's ban. It is the strictest in Europe, permitting only a "morning-after pill" that will terminate a pregnancy within 72 hours of intercourse.

Attorney General Harry Whelehan learned of the girl's plans only because her parents asked police if they should have tissue tests conducted on the fetus after her abortion in Britain for use in any criminal proceedings. The rape case has not yet gone to trial.

Advocates of abortion rights condemned Monday's court ruling.

"Victims of rape now face a double ordeal, which puts the credibility of Irish law in doubt," Jon O'Brien of the Irish Family Planning Association said.

"Abortion is a reality for Irish women, even if the constitution should say differently," O'Brien said.

Britain's Office of Population Censuses and Surveys says the most recently available statistics show 4,064 Irish women had abortions in England and Wales in 1990. Abortions are legal there through the 24th week of pregnancy.

Maxine Brady, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, said the judgment violated a European Community treaty that allows free movement of citizens to seek medical services in other member states.

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children, the largest anti-abortion lobby in Ireland, accused abortion rights supporters of exploiting the case.

"The girl and her parents have been shamefully used as publicity fodder by those seeking to change the Irish constitution," director Phyllis Bowman said.

Ireland's constitutional ban on abortions was adopted by Parliament after it passed in a national referendum by a 2-to-1 margin in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation.

The amendment says: "The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect and as far as practicable by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."

In addition to banning abortions, the government also bars publications that provide information about obtaining abortions in Britain.