Catholic Church urges Irish voters to preserve 'rights of unborn child' in abortion referendum

(Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne)Demonstrators take part in a protest to urge the Irish Government to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution, which enforces strict limitations to a woman's right to an abortion, in Dublin, Ireland September 24, 2016.

The Irish Catholic Church has urged voters to preserve the "equal right to life" of a mother and her unborn child in the upcoming abortion referendum.

The plea comes after Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced that Ireland will hold a referendum on whether to lift the constitutional ban on abortion in May this year.

Varadkar has said that he will campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child.

On Monday night, Varadkar pointed out that abortions take place in Ireland "but it is unsafe, unregulated and illegal," noting that many Irish women go abroad each year to obtain abortions, while others are obtaining abortion pills through the mail.

He indicated that his government will prepare legislation that would allow unrestricted abortions up to 12 weeks if the referendum passes.

In a statement provided to Christian Today, the Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Bishops' conference urged voters to vote against a change to the abortion law, stressing that "human life is sacred from conception."

"Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland has a particular vision which is based on respect for the right to life of every person," the statement read.

"The Catholic Church believes that human life is sacred from conception until natural death and that Article 40.3.3 reflects the appropriate balance of rights. Bishops ask the people of Ireland to ensure that this equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child should remain unchanged in our Constitution," it continued.

The Eighth Amendment has been added to the Constitution of Ireland after a referendum in 1983, with 67 percent voting in its favor and 33 percent opposing it. Currently, abortion is only allowed in Ireland in cases when the mother's life is in danger.

Pro-choice activists have argued that the amendment creates a "chill factor" in the health system, preventing medical practitioners from performing abortions even when the woman's life may be at risk. They contended that physicians are in fear of being put in prison if they perform abortions even in extreme cases such as when women are suicidal or become pregnant through sexual violence.

Veteran pro-choice campaigner Ailbhe Smyth, who serves as the chairperson for Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said that May was the ideal date to hold the referendum as Ireland's students were still in the country at that time.

Dr. Ruth Cullen of the Irish Pro-Life Campaign said that the government's decision to hold a referendum to repeal the amendment was a "very sad and serious moment for our country."

She said that it will eventually become clear that the proposal would lead to abortion in demand in Ireland if the referendum passes. "As people come to realise this, I have every confidence they will vote to retain the Eighth Amendment with a renewed commitment to building a more welcoming society for expectant mothers and their unborn babies," Cullen said.

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