LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals, the bishops said.

In a statement issued after their winter general meeting, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said they were “dismayed” that the voices of those who voted against the May 25 referendum that legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland are not being heard.

The Republic of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment – which was passed by referendum in 1983 and gave constitutional protections to the unborn – was overwhelmingly repealed in the vote: Over 66 percent of voters supported the measure.

Although the vote allowed for abortion in the southern part of the island – abortion is still mostly illegal in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom – the lower house of the Irish legislature didn’t pass new abortion legislation until Wednesday.

The new law will allow publicly-funded abortions for all women up until the 12th week of pregnancy, and later than that if there is risk to the mother or a diagnosis of a fatal fetal abnormality.

Doctors who conscientiously object to abortion will also be forced to refer patients to abortion providers. The law also allows minors to receive abortions without parental consent.

“Even what many people would have deemed to be very reasonable legislative amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability, have been rejected,” the bishops wrote Dec 6.

“Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals and pharmacists. They cannot be forced either to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion,” the statement continued.

The bishops forcefully said everyone has a right to life, which is not given by the law.

“The direct and intentional taking of human life at any stage is gravely wrong and can never be justified,” the bishops wrote.

“Women’s lives, and the lives of their unborn children, are precious, valued and always deserving of protection. Any law which suggests otherwise would have no moral force. In good conscience it cannot be supported and would have to be resisted,” the statement said.

Once one of the most Catholic nations in Europe, revelations about clerical sexual abuse has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland. In 2015, the country held a referendum on same-sex marriage in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice.

During the Dec. 4-5 meeting, the bishops met with representatives of pro-life groups from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to acknowledge their on-going commitment to upholding the dignity of unborn human life and to consult on the setting up of a new Council for Life under the aegis of the Bishops’ Conference which will operate from March 2019.