The Bishop of Clogher, Bishop Larry Duffy has urged political leaders in Northern Ireland to "face up to their responsibilities" as amendments to the abortion laws will make it legal here for the first time if no Executive is formed by this time.

The DUP has secured a recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly today to protest at the changes but the sitting will be merely symbolic and has been described as a "stunt" by Sinn Fein.

Bishop Duffy said: "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.

"I appeal to political representatives to set aside differences and to use the opportunity of the assembly meeting on to assert their own authority on this critical question. 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 added: "This weekend, Catholics celebrated World Mission Sunday, acknowledging that as baptised Catholics 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.

"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," he pleaded.