DUBLIN, December 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “International experience” has shown that attempts to legalize abortion in Ireland in “limited” cases, including where women threaten suicide, would quickly “open the floodgates” for abortion on demand, the Catholic bishops of Ireland have said in a new statement.

“A society that believes the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights cannot ignore the fact that abortion is first and foremost a moral issue,” the bishops said in the statement, issued the day after 10,000 pro-lifers rallied in Dublin. “As a society we have a particular responsibility to ensure this right is upheld on behalf of those who are defenceless, voiceless or vulnerable.

“This includes our duty as a society to defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenceless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk.”

The bishops were responding to the release of the report by the government’s “expert group” on whether a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights requires Ireland to change its laws to allow abortion. The group’s report was released a week ago, and said that abortion should be considered “medical treatment” for pregnant women. It recommended that the government bring in legislation allowing “limited” abortion.

“The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for abortion,” the bishops argue in their statement.

The bishops said the government report is faulty in that it failed to include other options allowed by the ECHR, including the option of a constitutional prohibition on abortion or a constitutional amendment to reverse the ‘X-case’ judgment.

“The Report provides no ethical analysis of the options available,” the bishops said, “even though this is first and foremost a moral issue and consideration of the ethical dimension was included in [its] Terms of Reference”.

Further, the bishops warned, the report fails to consider the risks in legislating for “limited abortion,” including creating an open field for abortion on demand under the pretext of the “threat of suicide.”

“International experience shows that allowing abortion on the grounds of mental health effectively opens the floodgates for abortion.” The bishops said that it is the unborn child’s “common humanity” that makes his life equal in value to that of the mother. “They have an equal right to life.”

“The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother.”

In the rare cases where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment that may be a threat to the life of her child, “such treatments are morally permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.”

This principle is known as the “principle of double effect,” which says where there is no direct intention to harm the child, a medical intervention is allowable that could cause a “secondary and unintended effect” of the death of the child. This is universally understood in the pro-life movement as being in no way analogous to abortion.

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The bishops reiterated this principle, saying, “Abortion, understood as the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby, is gravely immoral in all circumstances.

“This is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.”

Citing the current law and medical guidelines of Ireland, they said nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals may in good conscience “apply this vital distinction in practice”.

“This has been an important factor in ensuring that Irish hospitals are among the safest and best in the world in terms of medical care for both a mother and her unborn baby during pregnancy. As a country this is something we should cherish, promote and protect.”

They warned that the expert group’s report has made suggestions for legislating to allow “limited” abortion that “could end the practice of making this vital ethical distinction in Irish hospitals”.

Three of the four options presented by the report include legalised abortion, “the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child”.

“This can never be morally justified,” the bishops said.

The bishops said that the option of changing medical practice guidelines to “ensure consistency in the delivery of medical treatment” may be permissible, but only provided that any changes completely exclude the introduction of abortion.

“If guidelines can provide greater clarity as to when life-saving treatment may be provided to a pregnant mother or her unborn child within the existing legislative framework, and where the direct and intentional killing of either person continues to be excluded, then such ethically sound Guidelines may offer a way forward.”

They called for “sufficient time for a calm, rational and informed debate” and repeated that “abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ access to abortion may be”.

The bishops are asking all Catholic parishes in both Northern Ireland and the Republic to promote prayer to keep Ireland free of abortion. They included the web address www.chooselife2012.ie for their new dedicated website and “social media presence,” Choose Life 2012 on Facebook, and @Chooselife2012 on Twitter and, on YouTube.

They asked pro-life people throughout the country to pray: “Lord Jesus, you are the source and lover of life. Reawaken in us respect for every human life. Help us to see in each child the marvellous work of our Creator.

“Open our hearts to welcome every child as a unique and wonderful gift. Guide the work of doctors, nurses and midwives. May the life of a mother and her baby in the womb be equally cherished and respected.

“Help those who make our laws to uphold the uniqueness and sacredness of every human life, from the first moment of conception to natural death. Give us wisdom and generosity to build a society that cares for all.

“Together with Mary, your Mother, in whose womb you took on our human nature, help us to choose life in every decision we take. We ask this in the joyful hope of eternal life with you, and in the communion of the Blessed Trinity.

“Our Lady of Knock, pray for us. All the Saints of Ireland, pray for us.