General Election: Candidates should clarify stance on abortion, say Catholic bishops
Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland have encouraged Westminster candidates to make clear their position on abortion in a message to voters ahead of next week's election.
Brexit briefing Newsletter
The bishops also addressed Brexit and encouraged voters to appeal to politicians to return to Stormont while they're on the campaign trail.
Abortion was decriminalised here after the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 came into force in October following a House of Commons vote - a law the bishops called "draconian".
The Government now has until the end of March to come up with regulations for the provision of abortion services.
The message to voters came from the Catholic Church's Archbishop Eamon Martin, Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop Larry Duffy and Bishop Michael Router.
They said that voters have a duty to inform themselves of the position of election candidates in respect of their willingness to "support and cherish equally the lives of mothers and their unborn children".
"For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith," the bishops said. "We have consistently said that the equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it.
"Similarly, the freedom of conscience of healthcare professionals and pharmacists needs to be respected and they should never be required to lend their support to an action which conflicts with their commitment to uphold life.
"We ask all voters to respond to the current consultation on the draft Westminster abortion legislation and to leave their representatives in no doubt as to how they feel in these matters." The bishops also said that "competent voices" are needed to express "our" Brexit concerns and encouraged voters to back candidates who value positive relationships beyond the UK and Ireland.
They added that the final outcome of Brexit will have a significant impact on the political, economic and social life of Northern Ireland and its "fragile peace".
"It is worrying that some see the uncertainty over Brexit as an opportunity to drag the community back to a violent past," continued the bishops' message.
"We call on all political leaders to promote dialogue as the only way to resolve differences and to create a safe future for our young people."