An Italian MEP has challenged the Council of Europe's decision to prioritise the human rights case which the Government says obliges it to legislate for limited abortion.

Luca Volontè has also claimed that the European human rights system is being used to impose an obligation on Ireland that was never part of its founding treaty.

His question to the council focuses on the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the ABC case in December 2010.

It found that Ireland should give legal standing to the Supreme Court's earlier X case judgment, which permits abortion where there is a real and substantive risk to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide.

Mr Volontè said the controversial ABC ruling led to Ireland becoming the target of an international campaign pressuring it to liberalise abortion.

The European Court of Human Rights is an institution of the Council of Europe.

In the course of his question to its governing Committee of Ministers, the Italian MEP said Ireland is among the safest countries in the world for women to give birth in.

He asked why, in light of this, the Committee decided to give precedence to ABC when so many cases of important violations of human rights in its remit are treated under the Council's ordinary procedure.

Mr Volontè sits alongside Fine Gael members in the European People's Party grouping in the European Parliament.

In a news release publishing his question, the organisation Ireland United for Life accused Irish MEPs of staying silent on the abortion controversy.

Pope tweets urging 'culture of life'

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict has tweeted a message of support to an anti-abortion rally in Washington.

He said politicians should protect the unborn and "promote a culture of life."

The Pope sent the message as thousands of people gathered at the National Mall and in front of the US Supreme Court to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the landmark court decision that created a constitutional right to abortion throughout the country.

Tweeting in nine languages, Pope Benedict wrote: "I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life."

The pontiff has garnered 2.5m million Twitter followers in the six weeks since he launched his account.