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Irish official backs wider abortion law

DUBLIN — Ireland’s justice minister declared on Wednesday the country must end the ‘‘great cruelty’’ that requires women by law to give birth to infants who are the products of rape or have fatal genetic defects, as the head of state considered whether to sign the predominantly Catholic country’s first bill to provide limited abortion rights.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter predicted that legislators — fresh from months of grueling debate over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill — would be forced to face the question again, because the Irish public wants wider access to abortion for the most difficult cases.

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The bill, overwhelmingly passed by both houses of the Irish Parliament this month, permits abortions but only in cases where doctors deem the woman’s life would be at risk.

The government took action after a 31-year-old Indian woman died last year in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion during a protracted miscarriage that ended in toxic shock and massive organ failure.

Shatter said he sided with those liberal lawmakers who would have liked the bill to legalize abortion also in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or when DNA tests or scans confirm that the fetus cannot survive following birth because of missing organs or other deadly defects.

Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion means that women in those circumstances either must bear the child to full term or travel to another European nation, chiefly neighboring Britain, for a termination.

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