The Church of Ireland's two most senior leaders have rejected unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy as unethical.

In a statement, the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Richard Clarke and Michael Jackson, said Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution should be modified to give the Oireachtas legislative responsibility for addressing termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and the rights of the pregnant woman.

They say this should be done within clearly defined boundaries and parameters.

Their joint statement opens by recalling that the Church of Ireland's tradition rejects unrestricted access to abortion while, at the same time "being concerned to ensure provision (of abortion) for hopefully rare circumstances and in a secure medical setting".

They state that individuals will inevitably differ over where to draw the line between these two propositions.

"Instances where the life of the woman is at serious risk have long been regarded within Church of Ireland teaching as situations where termination of a pregnancy would be justifiable," they said.

"For some, pregnancy after sexual crime or the medical certainty of fatal foetal abnormality might also be seen as circumstances where abortion could be considered as justified."

They say they recognise the dilemma faced by legislators, medical, nursing and healthcare practitioners with regards to access to unrestricted abortion during the early months of pregnancy.

"However, unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept," they said.

Both archbishops urged the strengthening of legislation to improve support services to quickly and comprehensively meet the needs of pregnant women who face difficult situations.

They add that this would require "significant and sustained investment in both medical and mental health service".

Both archbishops said that too often in the abortion debate, the voice of women has not been heard.

The archbishops conclude by promising that their church will seek to continue to care for, and pastorally stand alongside, women, their partners and their families, when they face what they call "immensely difficult situations and dilemmas".