For Ireland's leading archbishop, Pope Francis' call for a "revolution of tenderness" is a challenge to defend all life, including the unborn children protected by the Republic of Ireland's eighth constitutional amendment.

"This amendment is precious and wonderful – it places as the very foundations and substructure of our laws a clear conviction that all human life is worth cherishing," Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said Oct. 1.

"It is therefore fundamentally a declaration of tenderness and love for the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn child. It is an undertaking to respect, defend and vindicate that right here in Ireland," he continued.

The Eighth Amendment to the Republic of Ireland's constitution, approved in a national referendum in 1983, acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and the equal right to life of the mother. It guarantees respect for those rights and pledges to "defend and vindicate that right" as far as practical.

The amendment has started to face opposition from activists, prominent politicians and media personalities, under the "Repeal the Eighth" campaign.

Archbishop Martin criticized that campaign.

"Demands to quash and abolish this amendment go against the Good News that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life – from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death," he said.

The archbishop's remarks were intended for the Day of Life 2016, an annual event initiated by St. John Paul II and celebrated in Ireland since 2001. The archbishop stressed the need to reach out to those in crisis, like pregnant women and their families.  

For Archbishop Martin, tenderness is a challenge to show active concern for everyone.

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"Nowadays the way of tenderness is indeed counter-cultural and revolutionary," he said. "It is perhaps the only way to confront inhumanity and cruelty, to bridge the great divide which greed has created between the rich and the poor, and to expose the pervasive 'throwaway culture' which surrounds us."

His remarks come weeks ahead of the Citizens' Assembly, chaired by Republic of Ireland Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy. It will meet Oct. 15 in Dublin to discuss abortion, and all hearings will be streamed online. Its 99 members were chosen at random.

It will hold several hearings to hear from experts and interest groups. Laffoy will file a report with the Republic of Ireland's legislature next year, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

The assembly will hold a number of public hearings on the issue of abortion and is expected to hear from experts and interested groups before the judge files a report to the legislature next year.

Some pro-life commentators have voiced concern that abortion backers will infiltrate the gathering and that the assembly represents an abdication of parliament's responsibility.

An estimated 20,000-30,000 backers of legalized abortion marched in Dublin Sept. 24.

The Life Institute, which supports Ireland's pro-life law, said between 25,000 and 30,000 people attended the pro-life Rally for Life last year.

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The pro-life group is campaigning with the hashtag "#RepealKills" in order to "bring the attention of the public to the fact that this means repealing the right to life of the preborn child, and that abortion campaigners are looking for abortion on demand."

"If we are going to debate abortion then we need to debate exactly what it does to mothers and babies," said Niamh Ui Bhriain, director of the Life Institute.

Ireland's abortion law is in the international focus. A leaked document attributed to billionaire George Soros' Open Society Foundations revealed funding for several pro-abortion groups in Ireland that are working collectively to repeal the pro-life amendment.

In the document's analysis, a win for legalized abortion in Ireland "could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places."

Regional efforts within Ireland to oppose the Eighth Amendment have drawn limited support.

On Sept. 19 the Kildare County Council, by a vote of 18-9, rejected a motion supporting the repeal of the amendment and the institution of wider abortion services in Ireland.

Ui Bhriain said the vote is more reflective of what pro-life campaigners find.

"We're canvassing the nation on this issue, and the views of the ordinary voter are not being remotely reflected in the strident media campaign for repeal," she said.

"There's a growing public awareness that beyond the 'repeal the eighth' slogan is the grim reality of abortion, and that abortion on demand is the aim of Irish abortion campaigners," she added. "This is not supported by most Irish people, who see the unborn child as a human being, and are increasingly uneasy with calls for abortion to be made freely available."

The scientific and media climate have also changed in pro-lifers' favor, according to Ui Bhriain.

"Science - and social media sharing - has revealed the humanity of the preborn baby, and we will make sure that the reality of slogans such as 'repeal' will be revealed in this debate"

Tracy Harkin of the group Every Life Counts noted the archbishop's support for the disabled and everyone who lives with life-limiting conditions, born and unborn.

"We are hearing a never-ending media clamor to have abortion legalized for preborn babies who are diagnosed with a life-limiting condition, and the archbishop's observation reminds us that if we truly believe in disability rights then we cannot argue for abortion on the basis on severe disability," Harkin said.

Harkin's daughter, Kathleen Rose, is a 9-year-old living with Trisomy 13, which is sometimes called a fatal abnormality. She said she was glad that Archbishop Martin spoke for her child's right to life and the right of "every child who is valuable and important despite their disability."

"The reality is that terms like 'fatal fetal abnormality' have been shown to be incorrect and misleading, and we are always talking about preborn babies who are alive and kicking at the time a diagnosis is made," she  said.

"The fact remains that many babies with these severe disabilities do have very short lives, but their families say that time together is precious, is important and is a bridge to healing."

The Republic of Ireland allows abortion if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide. Official figures say 26 abortions were carried out in 2014 and again in 2015.

Abortion law was changed in 2013 after controversy over the death of Savita Halappanavar, who was admitted to a Galway hospital while miscarrying.

She reportedly asked for an abortion, which doctors refused because the baby still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar later died of a severe antibiotic-resistant infection following her miscarriage.