Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has cautioned anti-abortion campaigners against protesting at GP surgeries that offer abortion services.
However, Dr Martin defended the right of campaigners to protest in line with their legal and constitutional entitlements.
He also said GPs opposed to abortion may have to come into conflict with the law on the requirement to refer women to a GP who is willing to help them.
The law allows for an opt-out from the service on the grounds of conscientious objection, but says GPs must refer women to a GP who will provide the service, or risk sanction. Dr Martin said he hoped no doctor would end up in that position.
“Respecting conscientious objection, even where they come to clash with the law, is a very important thing in any democracy,” said Dr Martin. “When you begin to trample the rights of conscience, then you’re moving into a very different form of government.”
He said the Church should focus on supporting women with crisis pregnancies, considering its cruel treatment of them in the past.
One of the things in Government policy that was constantly stressed was that abortion should be rare,” he said. “We have to do something to make sure that is the case and that people who want to keep their child can do it and can do it with dignity.
Dr Martin was speaking on RTÉ’s, where he also addressed the question of Church involvement in the running of hospitals, following the controversy over possible religious influence in the new National Maternity Hospital.
Dr Martin said there was a role for the religious in providing pastoral care, particularly as the hospital cared for women who were grieving the loss of babies, but not in management.
He also criticised the Government’s approach to the homelessness crisis. He said it worried him to hear politicians arguing over statistics which he described as “the classic indicators of spin”.
“Homelessness is something which is a barometer of a whole series of social problems, from mental health, to quality of building, to money and so on, and I think we’re not really tackling this question,” he said.