Ireland Abortion Legislation: Catholic Church Dangles Threat Of Excommunication Over Lawmakers

The Catholic Church has pointedly left the threat of excommunication hanging over Irish lawmakers who vote against the church's teachings on abortion in an upcoming parliamentary vote in the country.

The coalition government introduced legislation on abortion on Friday, following a huge international outcry over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion.

Halapppanavar was told by a midwife at the hospital that was treating her that she could not have an abortion because Ireland was "a Catholic country."

The proposed legislation, which the Irish government insists merely codifies existing abortion rights, was condemned by Irish Catholic Bishops. In a statement they described the legislation as “a dramatically and morally unacceptable change to Irish law.”

Cardinal Sean Brady, the most senior Catholic cleric in Ireland, told the Irish national broadcaster that "we know what the law is about excommunication, about abortion, that's a fact."

In a separate interview, Cardinal Brady said that “the failure by the Government to allow institutions to opt out of carrying out terminations on conscientious objection grounds amounted to a denial of fundamental religious freedoms and thought.”

The New York Times reports that Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and the head of the Vatican court, urged priests to withhold communion from politicians who supported abortion legislation in Ireland.

Cardinal Brady said bishops had not discussed if Communion should be refused to politicians who supported the bill.

The Catholic Church has traditionally wielded huge political influence in Ireland, but the child sexual-abuse scandals associated with Catholic priests and religious orders has significantly lessened its level of influence.