Pope Francis has said Catholic priests will be allowed to forgive women who have had abortions, and doctors who carry out the procedure.
However, the measure is just a temporary one for the coming Jubilee Year, which runs from 8 December – 26 November 2016.
In Catholicism, abortion is viewed as such a grave sin that it warrants automatic excommunication.
The Pope said many women “believe that they have no other option”.
He added that he had “met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonising and painful decision”.
The relaxing of the rules is being seen as a major shift Catholic Church policy, reflective of the Pope’s outspoken views on compassion and mercy.
“‘I have decided,” Pope Francis said. “notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to allow all priests for the Jubilee Year to absolve of the sin of abortion those who procure it and who also seek forgiveness.”
The Jubilee Year is seen as one of the Catholic Church’s most important events. It normally takes place every 25 years, but this year’s has been declared by Pope Francis.