LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s bishops have lamented the “staggering” number of abortions in the country in 2019, the first year it was legal in the country.

On June 30, Ireland’s Department of Health announced 6,666 abortions were performed, with only 24 performed for medical grounds and 100 due to possibly fatal fetal abnormalities.

The protection of human life from the point of conception was once enshrined in the Irish constitution, but the pro-life provisions were removed in a 2018 referendum.

“The vast majority of babies who were aborted in Ireland last year, 6,542 of them, are euphemistically described as having been ‘terminated’ in ‘early pregnancy.’ While we never got to know them personally, each one was a unique and precious human being.  It was not their fault that their conception was inconvenient or untimely, or the result of sexual assault or that their parents lacked the support that would have helped them to embrace life,” said a statement from the Irish bishops’ Council for Life.

The council noted that in recent months Ireland has experienced the “traumatic effects” of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, had killed 1,735 people as of June 30, “each one was a unique human being, created in the image of God, and each one’s death is being grieved by a family, a friend, a community.”

It noted the “enormous contrast” between the collective grief of Ireland for those who have died during the pandemic to the “bland five-page report from the Department of Health, published on the same day.”

The council called the government report “a timely reminder for Irish society of the concrete consequences of the decision made in May 2018,” adding it was “a fresh call to conversion for individuals, for the political establishment and for society.”

“It is an important expression of our pro-life commitment that Catholics would commit to offering practical and emotional support to women who experience difficulty because of pregnancy. We encourage all our parishioners to be sensitive to this need in their own network of relationships and to support the various pro-life organizations which offer that kind of outreach,” the Council for Life statement said.

“While there may be no public grief over the deaths of these 6,666 unborn babies, we know from our own experience that there will be much unexpressed personal grief.  We take this opportunity to invite all those affected by abortion – women and men – to avail of spiritual, sacramental and pastoral support, and we assure them that they will be welcomed without judgement and helped to find healing and peace,” the statement concluded.

Maeve O’Hanlon of the Irish advocacy group Pro Life Campaign said the numbers show the “terrifying results” of what advocates for changing the Irish constitution were pushing.

“Those adopting an attitude to the latest figures of ‘nothing to see here, everything is fine and going to plan’ are downplaying the loss of life caused by the recent introduction of abortion here,” she said.

O’Hanlon also pointed out a further 375 Irish women went to England to terminate a pregnancy, bringing the total to 7,041 Irish abortions in 2019, compared to 2,879 in 2018.

“It’s the first time in 18 years that there has been an increase in the number of abortions and the first time in our history that thousands of innocent unborn babies have had their lives ended with the full backing of Irish law,” she said.

“Sure, we can avert our eyes from the truth of what is now legally sanctioned by continuing to dress it up with words like ‘choice’, but that won’t change in any way the profound injustice of what the new law permits,” O’Hanlon added.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome