Archbishop Eamon Martin has been accused of using callous and hurtful comments as he reiterated calls for the equal right to life for the unborn to be retained in the Constitution.
Members of the campaign group Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) questioned whether the Catholic Primate of All Ireland was speaking out of “sincere concern” for women, and called on him not to judge or condemn.
Claire Cullen-Delsol, whose daughter Alex died 26 weeks into the pregnancy and was stillborn, said the archbishop’s comments were sad but expected.
“It is sad but not surprising that he feels qualified to comment on this issue despite not having lived experience, medical knowledge or any role to play in the treatment of pregnant women in any capacity,” she said.
Marking the Catholic Church’s worldwide Day For Life on Saturday, the Archbishop of Armagh said that from a moral point of view there was no such thing as limited abortion.
“Medical prognosis for the life of a child in the womb, or the extent of their disabilities, is no more morally relevant than it is when considering an adult who faces the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.”
A citizens’ assembly, chaired by a judge and with 99 randomly selected members of the public, has been established by the Government to begin assessing whether a new referendum should be called on the eighth amendment and the right to life of the unborn.
It will meet for the first time later this month.
Ms Cullen-Delsol (31), was refused her request for an induced labour when her baby was diagnosed with trisomy 13, or Patau syndrome, which is a serious genetic disorder that causes babies to grow slowly in the womb. She could not travel for an abortion and she was not permitted to have labour induced until the baby died.
“It was the worst time in my life. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t look after my other children. I just wanted the suffering to end and I have never ever felt so rejected and alone,” she said.
“The Catholic Church in Ireland has a long, tragic history of distrust and contempt of women and, at best, a cavalier and, at times, vicious attitude towards the children interned in its institutions.
“Given this reality it is hard to believe the archbishop is speaking from a place of sincere concern for women and their dying babies.”
The TFMR group said the archbishop was deliberately conflating fatal foetal anomalies with disabilities or life-limiting conditions.
Spokesman Gerry Edwards’s son Joshua died from anencephaly — a condition that prevents the normal development of the brain and skull.
“What difference does it make to the archbishop, or anyone else for that matter, whether my wife had an induced labour at 22 weeks, 32 weeks or 42 weeks?” he asked.
“We know of many other women whose babies, through cruelty of nature, had similarly catastrophic conditions and they made the unbelievably heartbreaking decision to end these pregnancies at a time of their choosing in the best interest of their babies, themselves and their families.”
In his statement, the archbishop also called on politicians to provide “every possible service and support to women, parents and families who are faced with severe difficulties and crises in pregnancy”.