The debate on abortions in Ireland has intensified after the head of the country's Roman Catholic Church spoke out on Christmas Day against government plans to legalize the practice in cases where the mother's life is in danger.
"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 said during mass on Tuesday according to Reuters.
"No government has the right to remove that right from an innocent person."
The Republic of Ireland is currently the only European Union member country where abortion is illegal. However, a recent case concerning a Hindu woman who died after being denied a life-saving abortion procedure has sparked a lot of soul-searching in the nation, and last week the government announced plans to loosen its laws and allow the procedure in the cases where the mother's life is in danger.
Although such abortions have technically been allowed since 1992, they have been used on a very limited basis, which many say is what led to doctors denying Savita Halappanavar the life-saving procedure that she needed while miscarrying her child.
The European Court of Human Rights has urged Ireland, a heavily Roman Catholic country, to reconsider its laws and provide more clarity when it comes to abortion.
"I know that most people have personal views on this matter," Ireland's Minister of Health, James Reilly, announced last week about plans to make life-saving abortions more accessible. "However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman's life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care, while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child."
The people of Ireland had previously rejected attempts to loosen abortion laws during voter referendums in 1983, 1992 and 2002, and despite the government's plans, many seeking abortions are likely to continue traveling to England and nearby countries for the procedure.
The controversy has strained relationships between the Church and the government, though in his Christmas message Brady insisted that the coming year was a chance to mend tensions and work on differences.
"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," the Cardinal expressed.