CATHOLIC bishops have come under fire from TDs for their staunch opposition to allowing abortion for pregnant rape victims.
Some of the most stinging remarks came from Fine Gael TDs and senators who would traditionally have been reluctant to attack the Catholic Church in public.
The hierarchy's representative, Bishop of Elphin Reverend Christopher Jones, was also criticised for using "offensive" and "disturbing" language in his submission on the final day of the Oireachtas Committee hearings. One Labour senator even went so far as to accuse the bishops of opposing abortion legislation due to a hatred of women.
Senator Ivana Bacik accused the Catholic bishops of opposing the legislation due to their underlying belief in the "innate deceitfulness of women" and "misogyny".
Bishop Jones said the church wanted a society in which all are equally cherished and respected. He said though it was a traumatic situation for a young girl to be pregnant after being raped, nothing justified the taking of a life of an unborn baby in such a situation.
"We claim that we must protect the innocent, voiceless and powerless unborn child in the womb. The solution of taking that life is no solution," he said.
Fine Gael Meath East TD Regina Doherty said she was at a loss why the Catholic Church was putting "both lives at risk" by giving no option when a rape victim was suicidal.
Fine Gael Dublin South Central TD Catherine Byrne said she found some of the language used in Bishop Jones's submission to be offensive.
Bishop Jones repeated the bishops' opposition to legislating for the 1992 Supreme Court X case, which allowed for abortion in the case of a suicidal pregnant teenage rape victim. And he insisted that the Catholic Church was opposed to the deliberate killing of an unborn baby – and not life-saving treatment for a mother.
"This is different from medical treatment to save the life of the mother where there is no other option and where intervention does not intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby," he said.
Bishop Jones, who set up the Catholic Church's crisis pregnancy agency Cura in 1977, said any suggestion that Ireland was an unsafe place for pregnant mothers due to the ban on abortion was a "complete distortion of the truth".
The Oireachtas Health Committee also heard the positions of other key religions in Ireland. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Dr Michael Jackson said his church opposed abortion but recognised there were exceptional cases of strict medical necessity where it should be an option.
Representatives of the Methodist Church and the Jewish community supported the availability of abortion where a mother was suicidal. But Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said this was not permissible under Islamic law.