Residents of San Marino, a tiny republic surrounded by Italy, have voted overwhelmingly to legalise abortion, rejecting a 150-year-old law that had criminalised it and making it the latest majority Catholic state to approve the procedure under certain circumstances.
With 26 of 37 polling stations counted, some 76 per cent of voters approved making abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy - a decision firmly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
It will also be legal beyond then if the woman's life is in danger or if her physical or psychological health are at risk because of fetal anomalies or malformations, according to official returns broadcast on San Marino TV.
More than 40 per cent of the microstate's 33,000 people turned out to vote.
The referendum was set after about 3000 people signed a petition drive to overturn the abortion law, which dates from 1865.
Women in San Marino seeking an abortion usually go to neighbouring Italy, a similarly Catholic country which legalised the procedure in 1978.
But proponents of the referendum say that puts an undue financial burden on them and penalises women who have gotten pregnant as a result of rape.
Opponents argue that in San Marino, even minors can receive free contraception at pharmacies, including the morning-after pill.
Voter Federica Gatti said Sunday as she cast her ballot that a woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy or not involves "several personal, religious and moral reasons," but that the state "must provide its citizens this opportunity."
Another voter, Elisabetta Matteini, said she was against having the procedure personally since it took her a long time to conceive her son, but said it should be available to avoid women resorting to "people who have no competence, putting their life at risk."
In the lead up to the vote, the bishop of San Marino, Monsignor Andrea Turazzi, said the Catholic Church was "decidedly against" the decriminalisation initiative, though he said the campaign had raised awareness about the need to provide better services and care, especially for mothers in need.
The Vatican firmly opposes abortion, holding that human life begins at conception and that all life must be protected from conception until natural death.
"For us, its inconceivable that a mother resorts to abortion because of some economic troubles," he told Vatican News.