DUBLIN - Denouncing it as a denial of the human right to life, Ireland's Catholic Church has urged followers to resist government plans to legalize abortion.
"I hope that everyone who believes that the right to life is fundamental will make their voice heard in a reasonable, but forthright, way to their representatives," Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of Ireland's Catholic Church, said in a Christmas message on Tuesday, December 25."No government has the right to remove that right from an innocent person."
Being the only EU member-state that outlaws abortion, the issue came to light last month after the death of an Indian woman who was denied an abortion of her dying fetus.
Following the case, the government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny presented plans to allow a woman to have an abortion if her life is at risk from pregnancy.
In 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that abortion was permitted when a woman's life was at risk.
However, successive governments have avoided legalizing abortion because it is so divisive.
But the death of Savita Halappanavar, who repeatedly asked for an abortion while she was miscarrying in an Irish hospital, highlighted the lack of clarity in Irish law that leaves doctors in a legally risky position.
The woman's death has re-ignited the debate on abortion and prompted large protests by supporters and opponents.
The Irish premier and his conservative Fine Gael party have been under fire for tackling the issue and some party members have indicated that they may not be able to back the abortion law.
Ireland is home to a Muslim minority of 45,000.
Abortion is banned in Islam unless for health reasons.
While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reasons, it does not allow doing violence to it once it occurs.
Muslim jurists have agreed unanimously that after the fetus is completely formed and has been given a soul, abortion is haram.
It is also a crime, the commission of which is prohibited to the Muslims because it constitutes an offense against a complete, living human being.
In his Christmas message, Cardinal Brady said protection of the child's life is a supreme value.
There is no more important value than upholding the right to life in all circumstances, he said.
Public representatives will be asked to decide whether a caring and compassionate society is defined by providing the best possible care and protection to a woman struggling to cope with an unwanted pregnancy or by the deliberate destruction of another human life.
He also called for action to alleviate the conditions of the least well-off in society.
I believe this failure to prioritize the elimination of child and family poverty in the reform of the tax and welfare system, in any jurisdiction, is unworthy of a society which claims to have a paramount concern for children.
The Cardinal voiced hope to improve relations between the Catholic Church and the government.
"My hope is that the year ahead will see the relationship between faith and public life in our country move beyond the sometimes negative, exaggerated caricatures of the past," he said.
Relations between the Irish government and the once dominant Catholic Church are at an all-time low in the wake of years of clerical sex abuse scandals.
Kenny told parliament last year that the Vatican's handling of the scandals had been dominated by "elitism and narcissism" and accused it of trying to cover up the abuse.The speech prompted the Vatican to recall its ambassador, or nuncio, to Ireland.