QUEBEC - The Roman Catholic Primate of Canada is standing by his comments that abortion is unjustifiable, even in the case of rape, and is urging the federal government to help pregnant women keep their child.

"Governments are funding clinics for abortion," said Marc Cardinal Ouellet. "I would like equity for organisms that are defending also life.

"If we have equity in funding those instances to help women I think we would make lots of progress in Canada."

Two weeks ago, Ouellet applauded Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government for its stance against funding abortions in the developing world -- praise from which Ottawa quickly distanced itself.

On Wednesday, Ouellet urged the federal government to take concrete actions at home, such as supporting women who decide to keep their child.

"If they do not want to fund abortion abroad and they do not bring at home more help to women to keep their child, I think they are incoherent," he said.

Ouellet said the ultimate responsibility for deciding to have an abortion is a matter of personal conscience.

He insisted he is not judging women who have abortions and said he would help them afterward.

"The woman has to take her decision in light of her personal circumstance and only God knows exactly all the elements of her final judgment of conscience."

He said he waited until people cooled off before responding to the firestorm of reaction that followed his comment nearly two weeks ago that abortion is a moral crime.

"I confess I was a bit surprised because of the magnitude of the reaction," he said at a news conference which was also attended by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

Ouellet, the archbishop of Quebec City, says he regrets it if his remarks caused additional suffering to women considering abortions.

"I am genuinely sorry that my remarks, distorted or cited out of context, may have caused additional suffering to women facing such situations. I hope that this clarification will help set the record straight and re-focus the debate.

"The heart of the debate is the support for the pregnant woman by the father of the child, her family and society."

Prendergast and Ouellet said people must be aware of the alternatives to abortion.

"If we are in favour of life, pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family, we must engage the culture around us and offer positive solutions," Prendergast said.

Canada's abortion law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988 and no government has dared to reopen the politically sensitive debate.