The Catholic Church has opened a “pro-life office” in Scotland to co-ordinate a campaign against abortion in a move described by pro-choice campaigners as a “backlash” after the Republic of Ireland voted to overturn a ban.

One of the country’s most senior Catholic clerics, Archbishop Leo Cushley, cut the ribbon at the campaign hub in Edinburgh three days after the referendum in the Republic which delivered a landslide victory for the repeal side , by 66.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent.

The result prompted an unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal over the legality of Northern Ireland's abortion restrictions, which state that a termination is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Although a majority of Supreme Court judges said Northern Ireland's abortion law was not compatible with human rights, the appeal was dismissed, and the region is now the only area in the British Isles where abortion is restricted.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, Archbishop Cushley said the new pro-life office at the Gillis Centre in Edinburgh would aim to build a “democratic consensus” around “legislative change” in Scotland, where it is legal to end a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks.

The Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who is one rank away from Cardinal in the Catholic hierarchy, believes every unborn child has an “inalienable” right to life and that abortion is “never the best outcome”, even in cases where a woman has been raped.

The office – a first for Scotland – is headed up by a “Pro-Life Officer” who will co-ordinate a network of volunteers in 103 parishes which make up the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. It is understood other diocese could now set up similar offices.

Archbishop Cushley said: “One of the many lessons of the recent referendum in Ireland is that those of us who seek to promote a culture of life have a distance to go in terms of winning over hearts and minds to the pro-life cause and that, really, is one of the key tasks of our new pro-life office.

“Whether it be in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland, legislative change will only follow the building of a democratic consensus around a culture of life, and that will only come if those of us who are pro-life can articulate our case with an intellectual coherence that is coupled to a deep compassion for mothers, children, families and the common good of wider society.”

Archbishop Cushley said the office would also offer “practical, pastoral care” to women who are in “very vulnerable situations”.

Jillian Merchant, a spokeswoman for pro-choice group Abortion Rights, said the opening of a Pro-Life Office in Scotland was an “inevitable backlash” to the referendum result in the Republic of Ireland and accused the Archdiocese of being “wildly out of touch” with public opinion.

Merchant said: “One in three women have abortions, including 11 women a day travelling from Ireland. This office, set up by those who would prefer that all abortion is banned and will seek to restrict women’s access to abortion, represents a minority view seeking to stigmatise women for making choices over their own body.

“Abortion is not a tricky moral dilemma, it is about women having choice – a medical provision that saves lives. Any attempt to demonise abortion, block access or restrict provision must be countered.”

Sarah Cartin of pro-choice group Christians for Choice added: “As a Catholic I know that the Catholic Church doesn’t always speak for all Catholics, many of whom are pro-choice. The overwhelming vote in Ireland showed that people from all backgrounds support women in their right to access safe, legal abortion.

“In 2018 in the UK, access to abortion should never be determined by which side of a border you live on. Women in Scotland should not be targeted by the Catholic Church in attempts to agitate and overturn legislation that has been in place for fifty years.”