DUBLIN -- After decades of delay and months of argument, Ireland's lawmakers agonized yesterday over government plans to pass an abortion bill for the first time in this predominantly Catholic country.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny acceded to lawmakers' demands for an extended round-the-clock debate of the bill, which would authorize abortions for medical emergencies.

His concession meant that the vote, long scheduled for last night, was pushed into the early hours of today as lawmakers debated 165 potential amendments. The government rejected them all.

Outside, more than 100 anti-abortion protesters, who had spent the night reciting prayers with rosary beads at the entrance to the Parliament building, vowed to spend a second night there in hopes of inspiring lawmakers to rebel against Kenny. "Keep abortion illegal -- babies can LIVE without it," their placards read.

But Kenny enjoys the largest parliamentary majority in Irish history, so the bill's passage appeared certain. It received overwhelming backing in an initial vote last week.

While Ireland officially outlaws abortion in all circumstances, its laws have been muddled since 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be legal in cases where doctors deem a woman's life at risk from continued pregnancy, including, most controversially, from her own threats to commit suicide if denied one.-- AP

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