Pope Francis has been heavily criticised after he compared having an abortion to hiring a “contract killer”.
Addressing worshippers in the Vatican, he said terminating a pregnancy was the equivalent of getting a hitman to “take out a human life to solve a problem”.
The pontiff’s remarks – some of his strongest yet against abortion – were a departure from the prepared text for his homily, delivered during his weekly audience on St Peter’s Square.
“Interrupting a pregnancy is like eliminating someone,” the head of the Catholic Church said.
“Getting rid of a human being is like resorting to a contract killer to solve a problem.
“Is it just to resort to a contract killer to solve a problem?”
Sarah Cartin, from the campaign group Christians for Choice, branded the Pope’s remarks “absurd”.
She told Sky News: “Pope Francis once again shows complete disdain for women by making absurd and inflammatory statements about abortion.
“As a Catholic, I question his priorities.”
Kerry Abel, chairwoman of the Abortion Rights campaign group, said the Pope’s comments were “disappointing and out of touch”.
She said: “Polling shows that even committed Catholics often ignore these comments and do what is best for their families and their lives.”
Elsewhere in his address, the Pope complained of a “depreciation of human life” as he cited wars, exploitation and what he called a culture of wastefulness, as well as abortion.
He asked: “How can an act that suppresses innocent life be therapeutic, civil or even human?”
Earlier this year, the pontiff opposed a bill in his native Argentina that would have legalised abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Thousands of Argentine Catholics reportedly renounced their membership of the church to protest against his opposition to the bill.