Taoiseach Enda Kenny has refuted a claim from the Archbishop of Dublin that new abortion laws give less protection to the unborn than in liberal regimes.
As politicians prepare to grill medical and legal experts on the divisive bill in special health committee hearings over the next three days, Mr Kenny insisted the legislation was about providing clarity and saving lives.
"The bill that we proposed here obviously doesn't change the legislation on abortion," the Taoiseach said. "This is about saving lives and clearly fundamental to any assessment of any person with difficulty in pregnancy is the requirement to do everything that's possible, practicable in the sense of saving the life of the unborn as well as that of the mother."
Mr Kenny said he had read a letter from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in which he made his first public intervention in the abortion debate. The archbishop said he was concerned by the Government's plans to legislate for abortion on the grounds of suicide. In a letter to the Irish Times, he said his anxiety related to instances when an unborn child is viable yet doctors consider an abortion to save the mother's life.
The changes to the abortion rules, if enacted, will legislate for the 1992 X case judgment from Ireland's Supreme Court , which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide. The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission to travel for an abortion.
The loosening of the rules is also intended to meet requirements from a European court decision that found a woman in remission from cancer should not have been forced to travel oversees for a termination.
In his letter to the newspaper, the archbishop said a "destructive abortion" of an unborn child where there is a threat of suicide was contrary to the constitution.
The Taoiseach insisted the legislation would make clear the need for doctors to do their utmost to save the life of an unborn child. This, he insisted, would become clear when the bill is produced following three days of Joint Oireachtas Health Committee hearings - on Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
Mr Kenny said: "It's about saving lives, giving clarity to the protection of the life of the mother and the requirement to do everything that is possible and practicable in the sense of saving the life of the unborn child as well."
More than 50 medical and legal experts will give evidence during the hearings into the heads of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013. The hearings, which will be conducted by the all-party health committee and chaired by Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, will begin in the Seanad chamber on Friday.