The Minister for Health & Children, Mary Harney, has said she had already instructed her Department to begin preparing for legislation in the area of assisted reproduction.

Ms Harney's statement followed a High Court judgment rejecting the case of a woman seeking to have three frozen embryos released to her against the wishes of her estranged husband.

The woman argued that the embryos had a right to life under the Constitution, but the High Court ruled that the protection of the unborn does not include embryos outside the womb.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin expressed serious concern following the judgment.

Dr Martin said it appeared that the ruling cast doubt on the level of protection the Constitution affords to human life at its earliest stages.

The woman and her husband had a child after infertility treatment and three extra embryos were frozen before the couple split up.

The woman was seeking to have the embryos retleased to her and implanted in her womb with a view to pregnancy, arguing that the protection offered in the Constitution to the unborn child included embryos.

However, today the High Court concluded that the three frozen embryos are not unborn within the meaning of the Constitution.

Mr Justice Brian McGovern said that it had never been in the minds of people voting on the 1983 Constitutional Amendments on Article 40.3.3 that the unborn meant anything other than the foetus in the womb.

The judge also said it was not possible for the court to decide when unborn life begins - that was not necessary to resolve the issues in this case.