The Irish government conceded defeat last night in the referendum over proposals to change the constitution to tighten the country's abortion laws. Currently women can have an termination if doctors consider they are suicidal. Prime Minister Bertie Aherne's government, with the support of the Catholic church, had wanted to close this legal loophole. Aherne said: "I am disappointed with these results. But I am a democrat. The people's choice is the final word." The turnout for the referendum was low - just 42% - allowing 10,500 votes to tip the balance. Up to 70% voted against the proposal in the towns while the same percentage voted in favour in rural areas. While some blamed the low vote on bad weather, others said they had decided not to vote because the issue was so confused. Several pro-life groups had campaigned for a 'no' vote as they objected to the definition of abortion in the proposed amendment, (as possible only after implantation) and feared that it would legitimise the morning-after pill. This was the fifth time in less than 20 years that Irish citizens had been asked to vote on the abortion issue. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, except in special circumstances where the life of the mother is threatened. These circumstances include the risk of suicide. The precedent was established in 1992 when a 14-year-old girl became pregnant after being raped, and threatened to kill herself. The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the victim, known as X, was entitled to a termination in Ireland, although ultimately she had to travel to the UK as doctors prepared to carry out the abortion had no legal certainty that they would not be prosecuted.
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