Irish citizens' assembly recommends change to abortion laws

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators take part in a protest to urge the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations to a woman's right to an abortion, in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's parliament is to consider changes to the country's restrictive abortion laws after a panel of citizens voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to recommend reform.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny last year called together 99 members of the public, randomly selected, to advise government on the politically divisive issue.

The panel on Saturday voted by a margin of 6 to 1 that the eighth amendment of the constitution, which enshrines an equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child, should be changed.

A series of votes on Saturday and Sunday were to make further recommendations.

The assembly is due to produce a report by the end of June and the government has promised to set up a parliamentary committee with six months to respond, potentially paving the way for a referendum in 2018 on changing the eighth amendment.

A complete ban on abortion in the Catholic country was relaxed only in 2013, to allow a termination if a mother's life is in danger. Anti-abortion supporters want no further changes to the law.

A protest movement calling for more relaxation of the law has held big demonstrations in recent months and opinion polls show a large majority of voters want some change. Thousands of Irish women travel abroad, mostly to England, for abortions each year.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; editing by Andrew Roche)