Catholic bishops have been told their opinion on abortion is worth no more than that of another voter and the electorate is not bound by theocracy.

The statement came from Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin in response to a call from primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, that Ireland should retain in its Constitution the Eighth Amendment which guarantees the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

Labour favors access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality and instances where the mother’s health is at risk.

Martin said on the Catholic Church’s Day for Life that the taking of a life, whatever that stage in life, is “gravely, morally wrong.”

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Day for Life was held a week after up to 20,000 people supported a Dublin march for repeal of the Eight Amendment.

The event also precedes a meeting later this month to consider the future of the Eighth Amendment by a citizens’ assembly established by the government.   

Responding to the primate’s assertion on abortion, Howlin said, “The Catholic Church has a clear view on this, and it is right and proper that the archbishop would express that, and that we should listen to it but we don’t live in a theocracy.

“The view of priests or bishops or imam is equal to any other citizen in this republic as we celebrate 100 years of the declaration of our republic.

“This is a very serious, very profound and difficult issue. I don’t think it’s a black and white issue.”

Labour’s long-standing view was that an issue of such complexity should not be dealt with in the Constitution.

“The Labour Party position is in the case of fatal fetal abnormality, of pregnancy by rape or incest or where there is a threat to the health of a mother, that option should be available in the discussion between an individual woman and her clinicians,” Howlin said.

Martin said, “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.”

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