Church seeks vote on Mexico City abortion bill

(Deletes extraneous word in first paragraph)

MEXICO CITY, April 17 (Reuters) - The Catholic Church wants a referendum to be held on Mexico City's plan to legalize abortion in hopes of thwarting the controversial bill.

Mexico City's leftist-controlled assembly is due to vote next week on legalizing abortion, which is now only permitted when the mother has been raped, her life is in danger or the fetus has certain defects.

The Catholic Church in Mexico City has gathered 32,000 of the 36,900 signatures needed to request a referendum. The result of such a vote would not be binding on lawmakers but would generate public pressure. And it would delay their vote by at least three months.

"In the end, the assembly is going to have the last word on this, with or without a referendum. But the difference is that with a referendum they would be listening to the people," said Church spokesman Armando Martinez.

Mexico City, the capital of the world's second-largest Catholic country, has been hit by competing protests from anti-abortion and abortion rights groups.

The church has threatened to excommunicate legislators who support the bill. The lawmakers have countered by accusing the church of illegally meddling in politics.

Martinez said the Church will soon present its demand for the referendum to the assembly.

The city's government is under no obligation to comply with the request. Assembly head Victor Hugo Cirigo said the government would review any petition but he was certain the vote would happen on April 24.

"The vote will be next week. We have an agreement and it would be very difficult to change. In fact, we are not going to change it," said Cirigo.

If the lawmakers ignore the petition, Martinez says the church will take the issue to court.

Martinez is counting on public opinion to force a referendum, which could not take place until July.

Mexico City's government has regularly clashed with religious groups. In November, it approved gay civil unions despite heated protest and is now considering a euthanasia law as well as the abortion measure.