LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An Irish bishop has made a last-ditch appeal for Northern Irish politicians to set aside their differences and stop the British government from imposing abortion on the province.

“At this critical moment in our history, it is vitally important that political leaders in Northern Ireland face up to their responsibility to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable, such as unborn babies in the womb and their mothers,” said Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher, which has territory in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of Britain or Ireland where abortion is still illegal.

It is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom but was exempted from the Abortion Act of 1967 that legalized it in the rest of the UK. The Republic of Ireland removed pro-life protections from its constitution in a referendum last year, and its abortion legislation went into effect earlier this year.

In July, the pro-life protections in Northern Ireland were removed in a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, that had the primary function of dealing with the exercise of government functions in Northern Ireland, since the power-sharing agreement collapsed in January 2017. The amendments would also impose same-sex marriage in the North, which is already legal in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

This legislation could be stopped if the political parties in Northern Ireland could resolve their differences and restore the Northern Ireland Assembly to take over governance of the province before Oct. 21.

“I appeal to political representatives to set aside differences and to use the opportunity of the assembly meeting on Monday next and to assert their own authority on this critical question,” Duffer said in a statement Friday.

“The political impasse on this has gone on too long and has been cynically manipulated by the parliament at Westminster to remove legal protection for unborn babies in Northern Ireland up to 28 weeks in their mother’s womb,” he continued.

Critics of the legislation have also pointed to the fact it would be the most drastic intervention into Northern Ireland’s laws by London since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended “The Troubles,” the 30 years of sectarian violence which led to the deaths of over 3,500 people.

The agreement calls for a devolved government in Northern Ireland, which must include representatives of both the Protestant and Catholic communities.

However, many observers have noted that the major Nationalist party, Sinn Fein – which usually loudly protests any unilateral changes in Northern Ireland imposed from London – has been mostly silent on the issue: It has been officially a pro-choice party since the Republic voted to legalize abortion last year, and could see the Westminster law as a way of achieving its political ends without alienating many of its Catholic voters.

The most strident opposition has come from the pro-UK DUP party, which represents most of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland and is strongly pro-life.

Duffy pointed out the Catholic Church in Ireland is celebrating World Mission Sunday this weekend, saying “we are called to give witness to the teachings of Christ in our everyday lives, to permeate society with the joy and hope of the Gospel.”

“There is no greater calling than to protect, sustain and celebrate life from the moment of conception until natural death,” the bishop said. “I ask people everywhere to pray for political leaders everywhere at this time; that they will respect and uphold the unique dignity of life, born and unborn.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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