Their first response since Tuesdays’ publication of the outline of the Protection of Human Life during Pregnancy Bill was strongly worded, claiming it would, if approved, “make the direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny tried to assuage the fears of his backbenchers — about a dozen of whom had concerns about the inclusion of suicide for grounds for abortion — despite the requirement of a very rigorous test to prove suicidal intent.
“It’s important to know the law is not being changed here. What is contained is a clarification of existing rights within existing laws and the constitution,” Mr Kenny said on Wednesday.
However, in a statement yesterday, the 31 Catholic 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.”
The statement said the “deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong” but focused particularly on the suicide grounds.
“Abortion, in the sense of directly killing the unborn child, is never a remedy for suicidal ideation and therefore should never be cited as a justification for the direct killing of an innocent human being.
“It is a tragic moment for Irish society when we regard the deliberate destruction of a completely innocent person as an acceptable response to the threat of the preventable death of another person.”
Primate of All Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady will hold a special Mass in Knock today. A Vigil of Prayer for Mothers and their Unborn Babies will take place at Our Lady’s Shrine which will include a blessing of pregnant women.
Cardinal Brady said yesterday that politicians had a “solemn duty” to oppose abortion and did not rule out refusing Communion to those who vote in favour of the legislation.
“I say 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 intervention may also sway some Fianna Fáil TDs and senators who are deciding whether their party should support the bill.
Health spokesman Billy Kelleher said legislation is needed to deal with a lacuna in Irish law — where a Supreme Court ruling existed but was not legislated for. He said there are “strong views” in the party, which is closely divided on the issue.
Another frontbench spokesman, Willie O’Dea, said it would be “very, very difficult” for the party to reach a consensus position.