Northern Ireland

Archbishop Eamon Martin in last minute abortion bill plea

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Media captionPoliticians introduced the bill following the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway, after being refused a termination

Irish politicians who vote knowingly for abortion are acting in "co-operation with evil", a leading member of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said.

They cannot reconcile this with their faith, the Catholic assistant archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said.

He was speaking before the last in a series of votes on allowing limited abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

The vote is due to take place in the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish parliament, later on Wednesday.

A range of amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill will be considered in the Dáil ahead of a vote that is due to take place at about 22:00 BST.

More than 160 amendments have been tabled.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Archbishop Martin, who is Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, made what he described as a "last minute appeal" for TDs (members of the Dáil) to reconsider supporting the bill.

"Whatever happens in this vote, the direct and intentional killing of any person is always gravely immoral," he said,

"Knowingly, willingly and intentionally voting to promote abortion, which is the killing of an innocent child, is co-operation with evil and cannot be reconciled with your faith".

Dr Martin said the bill would "fundamentally change the whole culture of medical practice in Ireland".

"This bill will make it permissible, legally, for the killing of an unborn child or the disablement of an unborn child," he said.

Image caption Savita Halappanavar died in October last year

The bill allows for a termination when three doctors unanimously agree that a woman is at risk of taking her life. Anti-abortion activists believe the measure could lead to more widespread abortion.

Others argue the bill is too limited as it does not allow for terminations in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a foetal abnormality.

Members of parliament (TDs) who support access to abortion say the bill ignores the fact that, on average, 11 women leave the country every day for an abortion in Britain.

Proposals to change the law in Ireland came about following the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who was admitted to hospital in Galway in October 2012 while miscarrying.

She died a week later from septicaemia.

Her request for an abortion had been turned down. Her death drew attention to the lack of clarity about the legal position on termination.

Her inquest heard that she could not get a termination at the time because her life was not in danger but, by the time her life was at risk, an abortion would have been too late to save her.

Her inquest also heard there were systems failures in her health care.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition government says its proposed legislation will bring the law and constitution into line.

In a vote last week, the government had an overwhelming 138 to 24 vote majority. It is expected to have another very comfortable majority later but it may not be quite as large.

Last week, four Fine Gael TDs defied the party whip and voted against the bill. They were immediately expelled from the parliamentary party.

About 300 people held a vigil outside Leinster House in Dublin overnight to show their opposition to the bill.

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