Voters in the tiny principality of Liechtenstein on Sunday rejected a plan to legalize abortion, following a bitterly fought campaign that saw the country's prince threaten to veto the proposed change in the law.
Opponents won the referendum with a majority of 514 votes, out of 11,510 ballots cast. The official count put no-votes at 52.3 percent, ahead of 47.7 percent who favored the plan to decriminalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or if the child is severely disabled.
Under existing law, women who have an abortion risk one year imprisonment, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger or she is under 14 at the time she got pregnant. Doctors who carry out an abortion can go to prison for three years.
Campaigners for the change argued that the threat of prosecution meant women had to go secretly to neighboring Austria or Switzerland even just to get advice on their options in an unwanted pregnancy.
But opponents in the Catholic majority country warned that the proposal went too far and could lead to late-term abortions of disabled children.
Their concerns were echoed by Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein, the country's de facto ruler, who said in a speech last month that he would use his veto power to block decriminalization.
The move prompted backers of the change, as well as democracy campaigners, to accuse him of interfering in the democratic process and of discouraging people from voting.
The outcome of the vote means a counterproposal backed by Liechtenstein's two main political parties is likely to come before the country's parliament and people soon.
Under the alternative proposal, which Alois has yet to comment on, abortion will continue to be a criminal offense in Liechtenstein. But having an abortion abroad wouldn't be punished anymore.