The Catholic Bishops of Ireland, who oppose abortion in all circumstances, have said this week that the Irish government's proposed Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill constitutes a 'morally unacceptable' change to Irish law.
According to RTE, in a statement the Bishops claimed that the bill, which sets out three procedures for dealing with crisis pregnancies which may require recourse to abortions, was unnecessary to ensure that women receive 'the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy.'
The bishops wrote: 'The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong. The Bill also appears to impose a duty on Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.
'This would be totally unacceptable and has serious implications for the existing legal and Constitutional arrangements that respect the legitimate autonomy and religious ethos of faith-based institutions. It would also pose serious difficulties for the conscientious beliefs of many citizens.'
The new bill was crafted 21 years after an Irish supreme court judgment ruled that when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger, including from the risk of suicide, she has the right to an abortion in Ireland, which successive governments failed to implement.
According to RTE, Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said the bishops are entitled to their view, but Ireland is a democratic country and laws are made by those elected by the people.
'For 21 years now, legislators have failed to legislate for a Supreme Court decision which set down what was lawful and what wasn't lawful in circumstances where a pregnant woman's life is at risk,' Gilmore said. 'It is time that that legislation is dealt with.'
Gilmore said that individual healthcare professionals were free to offer conscientious objections to abortion. 'But what we have to do collectively as a society and legislators is make laws that make it clear what is the position for a pregnant woman whose life is at risk, what treatment is available to her,' he said.
'She needs to be assured that her life will be saved, that she will not be at risk of death and that the medical professionals who treat her know exactly where they stand if they act to save her life. That’s our duty as legislators.'
The Bill was published on Tuesday after intense discussions between the coalition Fine Gael and Labour government. Prime Minister Enda Kenny reportedly held talks with his own parliamentary party on Wednesday amid concerns of a backbench revolt.
Opposition party Fianna Fail has not yet revealed whether it will tell its ministers to vote for or against the legislation.
If enacted, the bill will finally legislate for the 1992 X case judgment which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including emergency medical cases, non-emergency medical cases and the threat of suicide. The so called X case was taken by a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped and was then refused permission by the then government to travel to England for an abortion.
The new bill is also reportedly intended to meet requirements from a European court decision that found a woman in remission from cancer should not have been forced to travel overseas for an abortion.
Under the new bill, psychiatrists and an obstetrician will be consulted in deciding if a woman is mentally ill and should be allowed a termination. There will also be an appeal process for women.
Meanwhile a spokesman for the bishops told Breaking News that their statement was a preliminary response to the outlined reforms. They also expressed their concern that an abortion could be carried out in a Catholic hospital.
'We encourage a deeper understanding of the inviolability of the right to life of both a mother and her unborn child, in all circumstances,' they said. 'Accordingly, at this crucial time, it is essential that all who share these beliefs make them clear to their legislators,' they said.
'The bill also appears to impose a duty on Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. This would be totally unacceptable and has serious implications for the existing legal and constitutional arrangements that respect the legitimate autonomy and religious ethos of faith-based institution.'
Cardinal Brady said that enforcing the proposed abortion legislation across all hospitals could lead to potential legal action from the church against the reforms.
'We believe that is a denial of fundamental religious freedom,' he said. 'This is very potentially menacing for institutions and for the expression of religious thought in this country.'