DUBLIN, Ireland – Ireland’s upcoming vote on whether to legalize abortion is “a vital issue of life or death” that threatens to change the country forever, Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe told his diocese.

“I, along with many others find it almost beyond belief and profoundly sad that we are being asked to abolish the basic right to life of the unborn child from our constitution, a most fundamental and basic right,” he said.

“The Christian message is one of love and care for both mother and baby,” he added. “Thank God that modern medicine allows us to love, cherish and care for both mother and baby.”

The bishop’s pastoral letter “Invitation to Choose Life!” was released on May 4 and distributed at all Sunday Masses the following weekend. His diocese includes 58 parishes in the midwest of Ireland.

A May 25 referendum seeks to modify the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, which currently recognizes the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn baby. That section, known as the Eighth Amendment, was approved by Irish voters in 1983.

A Millward Brown survey published May 6 reported that 45 percent of respondents favor repeal while 34 percent oppose it. This data shows a narrowing gap from previous polls, and many voters say they are still uncertain how they will vote.

Monahan said the vote has “profound moral and religious implications for us all and specifically for the right to life of the unborn child.”

“The choice we make will shape our society for generations to come,” he said.

“Christians believe that all life is sacred and is a gift from God,” the bishop emphasized. “To destroy the body is to deny the human soul its right to full development.” Modern science and medicine have helped humankind appreciate “the wonder of human life from the moment of conception.”

These developments have affected family life for expectant couples, he added.

“Moments that remain forever embedded in the hearts of parents are when they first see a scan of their unborn child and marvel at the wonder of new life or when the tiny fingers of their newborn first cling onto their own fingers,” he said.

“The Irish constitution as it stands offers protection and care in equal measure to both women and unborn babies. Why would we want to alter this carefully worked balance to the detriment of either mother or baby?”

Monahan said the Eighth Amendment has saved thousands of lives, providing time “to think, plan, get good advice and seek out other options when unplanned pregnancies arise,” and fostering a pro-life culture.

But unrestricted abortion access “would make the regime in Ireland one of the most liberal in the world,” he said. “Many people are astonished and outraged by this proposal.”

“What is being proposed will create a shocking and blatant inequality. We will have a two-tier value system where we regard the life of some people as valued and welcome but another is not allowed even to be born,” he said.

“We must clearly state what abortion is – it is the direct killing of an innocent human being. This is simply not right,” said the bishop. “Children with disabilities or genetic disorders are disproportionately affected. In Britain 9 out of 10 babies who have been diagnosed in the womb with Down Syndrome are aborted.”

“A measure of a truly civilized society is how the most vulnerable and defenseless are treated. The unborn child in the womb is among the most vulnerable and defenseless of all,” he said. Passage of the referendum would have “alarming and far-reaching consequences” for others who are vulnerable.

He praised Irish medical care for mothers and babies as “among the best in the world.” Women in difficult situations “need and deserve the very best of medical care, support and love.”

“Cherishing human life concerns us all,” said Monahan. “The love of a mother for her baby in her womb or embraced in her arms, is the most powerful expression of love in our world. When the Bible seeks to convey how much God loves us, his people, it uses the image of a mother’s love for her child.”

The mother, father, wider family, and broader community “play their part in forming a circle of love and care to embrace the mother and her unborn child,” the bishop said.

Efforts to repeal the Eighth Amendment have drawn international attention, including donations from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations that ran afoul of Irish political finance rules.

Facebook recently announced it will ban foreign funding of ads related to the abortion referendum. The search giant Google went one step further, saying it would not run any foreign or domestic-backed ads on the referendum.

John McGuirk, a spokesman for the Save the 8th campaign, welcomed Facebook’s decision but he argued that Google’s move against domestic advertising was driven by fears of pro-abortion rights groups that they would lose and therefore wanted to limit voter information.

Supporters of the Eighth Amendment said mainstream media is dominated by pro-repeal voices and online media is their only platform to speak directly to voters.

The Pro Life Campaign, Save the 8th and the Iona Institute said in a joint May 9 statement: “It is very clear that the Government, much of the establishment media, and corporate Ireland have determined that anything that needs to be done to secure a ‘Yes’ vote must be done.”