Ireland's Catholic Archbishops have warned that legislating for abortion would pave the way for "the direct and intentional killing of unborn children".

In a strongly worded statement issued in response to the Government’s decision to introduce legislation, with regulations, on the issue of abortion, the archbishops said the lives of untold numbers of unborn children now depend on the choices that will be made by public representatives.

The authors of the statement are Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh, Archbishops Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, and Michael Neary of Tuam.

They said if what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed.

“It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances.”

The statement said: “The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I chose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I chose to licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”

The archbishops said the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case unilaterally overturned the clear pro-life intention of the people of Ireland as expressed in Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

They said to legislate on the basis of such a flawed judgement would be both tragic and unnecessary.

“The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity depend on our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death.

“The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. It is the very basis for every other right we enjoy as persons,” the statement continued.

They also called for a free vote for members of the Dáil and Seanad on the issue saying that no one has the right to force someone to act against their conscience.