Every Catholic parish in Ireland was given a message from the church’s bishops on Sunday to contact public representatives to oppose government legislation on abortion. 

Priests delivering the message from pulpits urged congregations to accept that they are being misled by the government on the proposed abortion legislation.

The message was distributed just days before the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill goes before the Dail (Parliament) for the first time this Thursday.

It also came only days after Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said, when the government published the bill after it was approved by Cabinet, that he was being branded as a murderer.

The bill will pass through a number of processes – the Dail, a Dail/Senate Health Committee, back to the Dail and then to the Senate – where amendments can be inserted before it goes to President Michael D. Higgins for signature into law in the second half of July.

The church stepped up its opposition, with the bishops’ message being inserted into parish newsletters and websites. “No individual has the right to destroy life and no state has the right to undermine the right to life,” their message said.

But at least one cleric, Connemara priest and author Father Pádraig Standún, publicly paid tribute to Kenny. “The criticism leveled by the Catholic hierarchy at Mr. Kenny and his government over the legislation is a classic confrontation between the idealist and the realist,” he said.

He claimed an Irish Times poll proved that the government properly reflected the views of the public on the issue.

“I admire Mr. Kenny’s assertion in the Dail that he is a public representative who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach,: Standún said.

Kenny told the Dail last week as he insisted that government TDs (members of Parliament) must obey the party whip in the vote: “I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer. I’m going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies. I’m getting medals, scapulars, plastic fetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system and it’s not confined to me.”

He said his role as taoiseach was not confined to any sector of the people. 

“It is for all the people. Therefore I am proud to stand here as a public representative, who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic taoiseach. I am a Taoiseach for all the people and that’s my job,” he said.

The new law will include a provision giving the minister for health power to suspend institutions deemed to be operating the act inappropriately. Other changes include expanding the numbers of

hospitals allowed carry out terminations.

The law will also broaden the category of psychiatrist allowed decide whether a pregnant woman’s life is at risk from suicide. One doctor will be required to certify that a termination is justified in the case of medical emergencies. Two doctors will have to certify where there is a physical threat to the life of the mother, and three in cases of suicidal ideation.

A pro-life demonstration outside the Dail last month.Photocall Ireland