Catholic bishops have described the proposed abortion legislation as "morally unacceptable" and the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has told politicians they have a "solemn duty" to oppose abortion.
Cardinal Sean Brady said legislators had an obligation to oppose laws that sought to attack the right to life and said he hoped another referendum would be held to change the Constitutional protections on the issue.
“I say that they (politicians) have an obligation to oppose the laws that are attacking something so fundamental as the right to life and they would have to follow their own conscience.”
The Cardinal also signalled a possible legal challenge to the Bill unless it is changed.
In a statement issued today, the bishops said the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013, if approved, would make the “direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland”.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore responded to the bishops by saying the Government has a duty to legislate on the issue.
“They (bishops) are entitled to express their point of view. This is a democratic country,” the Labour leader said.
“But it is time that that legislation was dealt with.” Mr Gilmore said it was reasonable for individual healthcare professionals to have conscientious objection 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.”
Cardinal Brady said the failure by the Government to allow institutions to opt out of carrying out terminations on conscientious objection grounds amounted to a denial of fundamental religious freedoms.
The proposed legislation had “potentially menacing implications” for all Catholic institutions and expression of religious freedoms, he told RTE Radio’s News at One programme.
In its statement the bishops said “the Bill as outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy”.
It said the bill appeared 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 Bill was published late on Tuesday night after intense discussions between the coalition parties Fine Gael and Labour.
The proposals, if enacted, will legislate for the 1992 X case judgment from the Supreme Court 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.