Northern Ireland’s voters should use their vote to uphold the right to life, not violate it, the Catholic bishops of the region said.

“The social and moral teaching of the Church is clear, that it is never morally acceptable to support any policy that undermines the sacred inviolability of the right to life of an innocent person in any circumstances,” they stressed.

The bishops released an April 27 pastoral reflection message ahead of Northern Ireland’s May 5 elections.

“As Christians, our encounter with the risen Jesus, living and among us, is a decisive event that has consequences for every aspect of our lives. This includes our lives as citizens,” the bishops said.

Voting is a moral act, they explained: “Each vote cast, or not cast, potentially influences the values that will shape future law and policy.”

The bishops reflected on Catholic social teaching’s role in seeking the common good in Northern Ireland.

Their message, titled “A better future: towards a culture of life, care and hope for all,” discussed at length the protection of human life.

“Central to the good news that the Church proclaims is that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life,” their message said. They voiced regret that some people “caricature the Church’s promotion of the inviolability of human life, from conception to natural death, as a mere ‘religious doctrine’, and therefore to be dismissed in the name of a free and secular society.”

“The principle of the inviolability of innocent human life is the most fundamental of all moral principles,” the bishops continued. “This is not only a religious doctrine, but a universal human value upon which our very freedom and dignity as a person rests.”

“To deliberately and intentionally take the life of an innocent person, whatever their state or stage of life, is always gravely morally wrong. To co-operate in such an act, by supporting it directly or indirectly, as an individual act or as a social policy, is also gravely wrong,” said the bishops.

In November 2015, Northern Ireland’s high court ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion law violated the European Convention on Human Rights because of its lack of exceptions that allow some abortions. Northern Ireland’s attorney general has appealed the ruling.

Among the other issues discussed in the Catholic bishops’ message was a call for all parties to address child poverty and systemic issues of social need, such funding for schoolchildren to have a nutritional breakfast.

Their message also discussed religious freedom, concern for persecuted Christians, faith education, environmentalism, and support for marriage as a union of one man and one woman.