Catholic leader hits out at 'vote' to reform Irish abortion laws
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has reiterated his total opposition to abortion after a special committee voted for the Republic's constitutional rules to be changed.
The Citizens' Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 members of the public and chaired by Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy, met to discuss the contentious issue for the last time at the weekend.
At the heart of their work is examining the eighth amendment to the Republic's Constitution, which gives equal right to life to the mother and to the unborn child.
In the first of a series of votes by members on whether to advise constitutional reform the assembly voted 87% in favour of change.
As the results were announced, Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, gave a homily at Knock Shrine reiterating total opposition to the constitutional change.
"Demands to quash and abolish this amendment go against the good news that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life, from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death," he said.
The all-Ireland Primate added: "To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person, whatever their state or stage of life, is always gravely morally wrong."
In Ireland, since 2014, a pregnancy can be terminated under the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act if there is a risk to a woman's life, including from suicide.
But there are growing campaigns for women to be allowed access to abortion if their unborn child is diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or in cases of rape and incest.
Figures from the Republic's Health Service Executive showed 26 terminations were carried out under the legislation in 2014 and the same number again in 2015.
In both years, 14 arose from a risk to the life of the mother from physical illness, three in relation to suicide and nine following emergencies arising from physical illness.
In Northern Ireland a termination is only allowed to be carried out where a woman's life or long-term health is at serious risk if the pregnancy continues.
Anti-abortion campaigners in Northern Ireland said it was "gravely concerned and alarmed at the outcome" in the Republic.
LIFE NI's Marion Woods said it was "completely unacceptable".