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Romania's 11-year-old rape victim urged to abort her baby

Twenty church groups on Thursday urged a government committee not to allow an 11-year-old girl raped by her uncle to travel to Britain for an abortion.

The pro-life Christian Orthodox groups also threatened to press charges if the girl were allowed to have a termination in Romania on exceptional grounds.

Their position was in contrast with the official stand of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which said the decision should be left to the girl's family.

A government committee is to decide on Friday whether the girl can go to Britain for an abortion or must continue the pregnancy. A Romanian living in Britain has offered to meet the costs.

The girl's pregnancy only became known earlier this month when her parents took her to a doctor because she appeared unwell. She told doctors she had been raped by her 19-year-old uncle, who has since disappeared.

She is now 20 weeks pregnant. The legal limit for abortions in Romania is 14 weeks. Abortions can be carried out later only to save the life of the mother.

In Britain an abortion is legal up to 24 weeks if two doctors decide that the risk to a woman's physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it.

The case has bitterly split the medical community, child rights groups and the public.

In a statement, the church groups offered "material, spiritual and psychological help" to the child's impoverished family, adding they would also raise the child in a church institution if the family was unable to care for it.

But splits were apparent even within the church.

Constantin Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which more than 80 percent of Romanians belong, said Wednesday it was "an exceptional situation which must be treated in an exceptional manner and the family is the only one to take this decision."

He said the church considers abortion a crime, but this belief applies to normal circumstances and not to incest or rape.

The National Child Protection Authority has said the girl should be allowed to have an abortion because she is already traumatized by the experience of rape and pregnancy.

The National Doctors Council, however, said that the rights of the fetus should be considered and the pregnancy should go ahead. They argued that abortion laws should not be liberalized further.