Pope Francis has compared having an abortion to "hiring a hitman” and said the procedure can never be condoned, even when the foetus is gravely sick.

Speaking at a Vatican-sponsored anti-abortion conference, he urged doctors and priests to support families to carry all pregnancies to full term.

"Is it licit to throw away a life to resolve a problem?” he asked his audience. “Is it licit to hire a hitman to resolve a problem?"

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

From 15p €0.18 $0.18 USD 0.27 a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.

The pontiff said that the matter was not a religious issue but a human one.

And he denounced decisions to abort pregnancies based on prenatal testing, saying a human being is "never incompatible with life".

It is not the first time the Pope has spoken out strongly against abortion but his new comments come little more than a week after the issue was pushed into the global spotlight when the US state of Alabama passed highly restrictive laws banning abortion in all cases – including where pregnancies have been caused by rape – apart from when the mother's own life is at risk.

The bill's architects expect that it will be defeated in the lower courts, but hope that it will therefore come before the country's newly-conservative Supreme Court.

If judges there uphold the bill, it will give the green light for other states across the US to impose similarly Draconian measures.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio are among others which have also passed new abortion restrictions in recent months with the same goal in mind.

Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our Community Guidelines.

You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our Community Guidelines.

You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.