The plea from Ireland's four archbishops comes ahead of Friday's general election

Ireland’s bishops urged voters to press candidates on life issues before the general election on February 26.

In a statement, the four Irish archbishops said they “strongly oppose any weakening of the affirmation of the right to life of the unborn.”

In 1983, Ireland introduced a constitutional ban on abortion and gave an equal right to life to the mother and the child.

However, in 2013, the government introduced the country’s first abortion law, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows abortion where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including a risk of suicide. Last June, Health Minister Leo Varadkar reported that 26 abortions — including three based on the risk of suicide — were carried out in Irish hospitals in 2014.

Some political parties and individual candidates are now pushing for a further liberalisation of the grounds for abortion.

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The Labour Party is campaigning on a ticket of repealing the Eighth Amendment — the 1983 ban on abortion — and has indicated it will insist on an abortion referendum as a prerequisite to re-entering a coalition with Fine Gael.

The bishops’ statement was issued the day the Labour Party unveiled its plans for a referendum and the introduction of legislation similar to the Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told RTE’s Morning Ireland radio programme on February 18 that the right to life should be a very important issue for voters because it is about ensuring that “the interests of all children are respected and nobody’s life is considered less valuable than others.”

“Let politicians have the courage also to say where they stand up on this issue,” he said.

He added, “You cannot pretend to be a Catholic and leave aside a very vital part of Catholic teaching.”

The archbishops’ statement followed other statements from individual bishops. Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said he found it “very difficult to see how any Catholic could, in good conscience, vote for a candidate or a political party whose policy it is to legalise abortion.”

Referring to arguments favouring abortion for children diagnosed with a fatal fetal abnormality, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam dismissed it as “simplistic” and “an outright attack on the unborn” and an “affront to the charter of human rights enshrined in Ireland’s basic law.”

“If an unborn child has a life-limiting condition, it would be inhumane to withdraw the protection of the constitution to their right to life,” he said.

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Dec 9 2016 cover