“If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed,” read the statement of the four archbishops released Dec. 18.
“It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances,” wrote Archbishops Sean Brady of Armagh; Diarmuid Martin of Dublin; Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly; and Michael Neary of Tuam.
Their comments come the same day as the health department of the Republic of Ireland announced that as a result of a expert groups' report released Nov. 27, the government will introduce legislation to allow for abortion in the case of life endangerment of the mother.
The measure is aimed at clarifying the status of Irish abortion law.
The expert group was formed in response to a Dec. 2010 decision of the European Court of Human Rights that Irish law is unclear about the legality of abortion.
An 1861 law, still in effect in Ireland, bans abortion, and the 1983 constitution recognizes unborn childrens' right to life “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” which the European court upheld.
In 1992 the country's Supreme Court, in the “X-case,” ruled that abortion was lawful if there was a significant risk to the life of the mother as a result of her pregnancy.
The bishops stated that the “X-case” decision “unilaterally overturned the clear pro-life intention of the people of Ireland...to legislate on the basis of such a flawed judgment would be both tragic and unnecessary.”
“The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity” are dependent upon the right to life, wrote the bishops.
But the impending vote to legislate for abortion means that Irish representatives must now ask themselves, “will I chose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I chose to license the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”
The bishops stressed that the vote must respect “complete respect for the freedom of conscience” of every legislator.
This comes as the Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, said the party whip would be applied to his ruling Fine Gael party.
“There will be no free vote on this,” he announced.
The government stated that the legislation, which has yet to be drafted, will be “within the parameters” of the constitution's provision for the equal rights to life of mother and child, “as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case.”
The government further stated that the legislation would provide “clarity and certainty” about when an abortion is allowed, and that this would only be when there is “a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman” and that risk can be averted only by an abortion.
Irish health minister James Reilly said that the legislation was needed to ensure that “the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened.”
The Republic of Ireland is in fact one of the safest countries in the world for pregnant mothers. Only three of every 100,000 women die in childbirth in the country. The average number in Europe and North America, with liberal abortion provisions, is 14 per 100,000.
The archbishops concluded their statement by admonishing “all involved” to “consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to today’s announcement by the Government.”
“We encourage all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right.”
The archbishops of Ireland say the government's consideration of legalizing abortion would harm the country's world-renowned health care practices for mothers.
Abortion, Church in Ireland