Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has attempted to quell fallout over contentious changes to abortion rules by claiming that law on the procedure is not being changed.
Amid concerns that reforms on the issue of a suicidal pregnant woman will spark backbench resignations, Mr Kenny said the new legislation is designed to bring clarity and legal certainty to both women and doctors.
The proposals, 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. As well as that judgment, the loosening of rules is intended to meet requirements from a European court decision that found a woman in remission from cancer should not have been forced to travel overseas for an abortion.
Mr Kenny warned his backbenchers in the Fine Gael party that it is their duty to legislate on the divisive issue.
"I can't speak for everybody but I do hope that we can bring everybody with us on an issue that I know is sensitive and on which people have a range of views," Mr Kenny said.
"It's sensitive, it's complex and I do hope that during the discussions that will take place between both parties that people will understand fully the intent of the Government here which is to bring clarity and legal certainty to pregnant women and doctors."
One backbencher opposed the legislation before examining the detail while others in the Fine Gael party have expressed grave concerns, including junior minister Lucinda Creighton.
Mr Kenny insisted the bill was not an attempt to change existing laws, but rather to legislate for the X case and provide further certainty to pregnant women and doctors.
"The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed," he said. "Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth. And the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the Protection of Maternal Life Bill will continue within the law, to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply in the future."