Monday 24 June 2019

Sinn Fein votes to liberalise access to abortion

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

SINN Féin has voted to amend its policy so that TDs can support legislation allowing for abortion up to 12 weeks.

Despite campaigning for repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Mary Lou McDonald’s party was not in a position to vote for the new regime being proposed by the Government.

At the party’s Ard Fheis in Belfast, members voted to allow the party leadership to set policy on the issue “informed by the best available medical advice”.

The motion said Sinn Féin supports the Joint Oireachtas Committee findings on abortion and reasserts that abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

A second motion calling for a TDs to have a free vote like Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was heavily rejected.

The husband of Sheila Hodgers, who died in 1983, was among those to address the gathering, saying the party should not rerun the referendum debate.

Ms Hodgers developed cancer while pregnancy and died after being taken off her medication for fear that it would harm the foetus in her womb. The baby also died.

Brendan Hodgers said the result of the abortion referendum “must now be transformed into legislation”.

Otherwise, he said, another generation would be condemned “to decades of neglect and inequalities”.

Urging the party to amend its policy, he said it should be done “in the name of humans rights and justice for mother, sisters and aunts who deserve nothing less”.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty hit out at those seeking a conscience vote, saying the party has to be “honest” with people.

“Being honest means presenting a unified platform and keeping our word. Keeping our word not just on the easy issues but on the tough ones as well.

“What we can’t do is allow for SF elected representatives to shirk their responsibility and opt out of policy,” he said.

A small number of delegates spoke in favour of allowing TDs and senators have a free vote on the issue.

They argued that unless this happened Sinn Féin would be a “cold house for pro-life members”.

In her contribution deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the party needs to “face the reality” that some women find themselves in life-threatening situations because of a pregnancy.

“It’s not about opening floodgates. It’s not about pro-life or pro-choice, we are all pro-life,” she said.

Arguing against proposal to allow TDs have a ‘vote of conscience’ on the issue like Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, she said members needed to toe the party line.

“Nobody is saying members can’t a conscience,” Ms O’Neill said. But she added that there is a “distinct difference” between holding personal views and voting on legislation.

 “it’s important the party has a position,” she said.

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