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Bishops lash out at Irish bill

Push for pressure on abortion plan

DUBLIN — Ireland’s Roman Catholic leaders appealed to the public Friday to lobby their lawmakers to reject a bill that would permit abortions deemed necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, a measure long ordered by Irish and European courts.

In a joint statement, Ireland’s bishops, archbishops, and lone cardinal described the bill, unveiled this week after decades of debate, as ‘‘a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law.’’

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They argued it would be most grievously wrong to give any woman an abortion to assuage her threats to commit suicide, as the bill allows.

‘‘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,’’ the bishops wrote.

Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics, said in an interview that the bill made the right to life of the fetus subservient to the rights of the woman. ‘‘There are two lives involved here,’’ he said.

The intervention of Ireland’s dominant church in the abortion debate raises the political temperature at a moment when the 2-year-old government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny is already fraying over the merits of the bill. The government has been under international pressure to clarify the rights of doctors to perform life-saving abortions since October, when a miscarrying Indian woman died from blood poisoning in an Irish hospital after being denied a termination.

The smaller left-wing party in the coalition, Labour, supports the bill but Catholic conservatives in Kenny’s own Fine Gael party are vowing to weaken or block it, chiefly over its suicide section. The bill faces weeks of parliamentary debate and likely amendments before reaching a vote expected in July.

If passed, the bill would permit a single doctor to authorize an abortion if the woman’s life was in immediate danger from continued pregnancy; two doctors if the pregnancy posed a potentially lethal risk, such as by triggering the return of cancer in remission; and three doctors if the woman was threatening to kill herself.

Kenny, who has previously clashed with Brady and other Catholic leaders over their admitted involvement in child abuse cover-ups, declined to respond. But Deputy Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, the Labour leader, said the bishops had no influence on government policy.

‘‘They’re entitled to express their point of view. This is a democratic country. But the laws of this country are made by those of us who are elected by the people and are charged with that responsibility,’’ Gilmore said. ‘‘And for 21 years now, legislators have failed to legislate for a Supreme Court decision which set down what was lawful and what wasn’t lawful in circumstances where a pregnant woman’s life is at risk. It is time that that legislation is dealt with.’’

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled that an abortion in Ireland should be lawful only if doctors determined one was necessary to preserve the woman’s life. Crucially, the judges found that this rule should apply to women making credible threats to kill themselves if denied a termination.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland’s failure to back the Supreme Court judgment with laws and medical regulations meant Irish doctors were left in legal limbo and women were endangered in the process.

The court ordered Ireland to remedy the situation.

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