Church of Ireland bishops speak out ahead of abortion referendum
The Church of Ireland has said it remains opposed to "unrestricted access to abortion" ahead of a referendum in the Republic on the contentious issue later this year.
The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution accords equal status to the life of a child growing in the womb and that of its mother.
As a result, only in extreme circumstances can an abortion be carried out in the Republic.
A referendum on whether the Eighth Amendment should be repealed will take place in May.
A statement released by Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke and the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Michael Jackson said it remained the position of the church to oppose unrestricted abortion "while being concerned to ensure provision for hopefully rare circumstances and in a secure medical setting".
The statement continued: "Where individuals draw such a line will inevitably differ. Instances where the life of the woman is at serious risk have long been regarded within Church of Ireland teaching as situations where termination of a pregnancy would be justifiable.
"For some, pregnancy after sexual crime or the medical certainty of fatal foetal abnormality might also be seen as circumstances where abortion could be considered as justified.
"In every situation, however, the church seeks to offer pastoral care sensitive to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of women and families who find themselves in such difficult situations."
The bishops said the church favoured a modification of the amendment which allows for legislators to have responsibility to address termination of pregnancy and for the rights of the unborn and pregnant woman to be "clearly defined".
The bishops added: "We recognise the dilemma faced both by legislators and by medical, nursing and healthcare practitioners with regards to access to unrestricted abortion during the early months of pregnancy.
"However, unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept. We would suggest that current legislation should be strengthened to ensure that the needs of pregnant women facing difficult situations can be addressed quickly and comprehensively through improved support services. This will require significant and sustained investment in both medical and mental health services.
"We acknowledge that too often in this debate the voice of women has not been heard. The church will seek to continue to care for and pastorally stand alongside women, and their partners and families, who face immensely difficult situations and dilemmas."
Last December, a report by a specially convened Oireachtas committee found that Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.