CATHOLIC bishops have insisted that "Catholic teaching" had no role to play in the death of pregnant Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, inset.
It is the first public comment by Catholic bishops on the issue that has sparked a debate on abortion around the country.
Ms Halappanavar's husband said that she had been told by doctors that "this is a Catholic country" when requesting an abortion to try to save her life.
The statement from the bishops came as the members of an independent committee set up to inquire into Ms Halappanavar's death were announced.
The standing committee of the Irish Bishops' Conference – which is made up of seven bishops from around the country – discussed the case at their meeting in Maynooth.
In a statement, they said that they wanted to re-affirm their position on the right to intervene where a mother's life was at risk. "Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby," they said.
And the bishops insisted that the Catholic Church had never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother.
"By virtue of their common humanity, a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life," they said.
They said there was a difference between medical treatments that did not intentionally seek to end the life of the baby and abortion, which was the "direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances".
According to a spokesman for the bishops, the statement was intended to show that Catholic teaching could not be given as a reason for the tragic death of Ms Halappanavar and her unborn baby.
The bishops said the deaths of Ms Halappanavar and her unborn child were a "devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family".
"We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs Halappanavar and all those affected by these events," they said.
It is the second intervention by the bishops in the abortion debate in recent months. Last October, they urged Catholics to lobby local TDs to reject any liberalisation of abortion laws.