In a strongly worded statement Irish bishops have warned that legislating for abortion would lead to "the direct and intentional killing of unborn children.”

In response to the Government’s announcement concerning their intention to introduce new abortion legislation, the Catholic archbishops said the lives of untold numbers of unborn children now depend on the choices that will be made by public representatives.

Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, and Michael Neary of Tuam all signed the joint statement.

The statement said: “The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: 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 licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”

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“It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances.

“The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity depend on our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death.

“The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. It is the very basis for every other right we enjoy as persons,” the statement continued.

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The Bishops said the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case overturned the pro-life intention of the people in Ireland as laid out in the Constitution.

In response to the statement, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said he was taken aback by the vigor of the language used. He said he was surprised by the intervention by the Catholic Church considering the legislation had not yet been published.

Speaking to RTE’s Morning Ireland program Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly called on politicians to be free to vote on moral and ethical grounds on any legislation which legalises abortion.

"This would be a radical change in the culture of life that we have had here in this country - and let's not make any mistake about it - it would be an irrevocable change, there would not be any going back,” he told the program.

"And that, we believe, would be the first step on the way to what Pope John Paul has called a culture of death."