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Irish continue debate as parents of teen appeal abortion ruling

The parents of a 14-year-old Irish rape victim on Thursday appealed to the Supreme Court against a ban on her traveling to Britain to seek an abortion.

The decision was welcomed by new Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, plunged into a political crisis that may force him into calling another bitterly divisive referendum on abortion. The procedure is banned in Catholic Ireland.

The crisis was sparked by the high court's decision to ban the girl from leaving the country to have an abortion in England.

The girl says she became pregnant after being raped in December by the father of her best friend, after more than a year of sexual abuse by the man.

The case came to the attention of authorities when the family asked police whether they should preserve tissue samples from the fetus for possible prosecution of the alleged rapist.

No date was set for the Supreme Court hearing, but government officials said every effort would be made to see their appeal is heard speedily. The state will pay the family's costs.

The crisis has sparked a major morality fight that left the government deeply embarrassed internationally and the Irish people appalled at the heartache faced by the girl's family.

President Mary Robinson says she has no role to play in the case because her political functions are limited under the constitution.

Irish rock star Sinead O'Connor called for a referendum. "It was the people made the law and the people of Ireland who boxed themselves into a corner. They must change it themselves," O'Connor said. The singer has said she has had two abortions.

Ireland has the most restrictive abortion law in Europe, permitting only a "morning-after" pill that terminates pregnancies in the first 72 hours.

Some 4,000 Irish women had abortions in England and Wales in 1990, according to British records.