The master of the National Maternity Hospital has insisted doctors under her charge will not hesitate to terminate a pregnancy if it will save a woman's life.
As the Government assesses how to legalise abortion in limited circumstances, Dr Rhona Mahony, from the Holles Street hospital in Dublin, said the procedure is about saving, not ending, lives.
"If a woman is critically ill and it's very obvious she is likely to die and she will be saved by intervening and treating her, and that treatment involves interrupting or terminating a pregnancy, we will not hesitate to do so," said Dr Mahony.
Three days of hearings on plans to legislate for abortion began with evidence from the maternity master, who said it is vital that doctors are legally protected to carry out terminations because existing laws are outdated and criminalise them for doing so.
Dr Mahony said: "It's not about terminating pregnancies by destroying babies. It's about saving women's lives."
Three abortions were carried out at Holles Street last year to save women's lives.
Six were performed at Rotunda Hospital in central Dublin, TDs and senators were told during the first day of special Oireachtas health committee hearings on abortion reform.
They began a day after Pope Benedict weighed into the abortion debate when he expressed dismay at the proposed introduction of abortion legislation "in various countries, even those of Christian tradition". Ireland's Catholic bishops will make their views known to the committee on Thursday.
The meetings will allow politicians to gather information to help draft proposed laws on terminations on medical grounds. The Government last month announced plans to introduce a combination of legislation and regulation to legalise abortion in limited circumstances including when a pregnant woman is a suicide risk.
Dr Mahony shot down claims that legalising abortion in such cases would lead to termination on demand, and she said she was offended by suggestions that a woman would pretend to be suicidal to convince doctors to carry out the procedure. "When women are so distressed that they are willing to take their own lives, they need to be listened to, they need to be believed and they need appropriate medical care," she added.