Abortion: 14 SDLP councillors affirm pro-life stance
Fourteen SDLP members of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have issued a statement saying they are "unapologetically pro-life" and against "abortion on demand".
They were speaking after opposing an Alliance motion which called on Prime Minister Theresa May to bring Northern Ireland's abortion law into line with the rest of the UK.
Councillor Michael Savage, a former SDLP chief executive, said his colleagues were totally against any move which would see abortion up to 12 weeks legalised here, as is set to happen in the Republic.
Mr Savage said he had voted against the SDLP making abortion an issue of personal conscience for its representatives at a party conference last month.
The 14 councillors are the biggest grouping of SDLP elected representatives in any chamber in Northern Ireland, including the Assembly.
Mr Savage told the Belfast Telegraph that unlike his party leader Colum Eastwood (right), he would have voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment in the Republic's referendum.
But he stressed that he had "huge respect" for Mr Eastwood, who had "a very difficult job" as party leader. The Newry councillor said: "Abortion is a tremendously emotive and potentially divisive issue.
"There are families divided on this issue across this island so it is no surprise that there are differing views in the SDLP.
"It just happens that I have a different view on this from Colum. I respect his views and he respects mine and I must say he was very gracious to me after our recent debate on this issue in Maghera."
In their statement after the council debate, the 14 SDLP councillors said: "We wanted to put it on the record this evening that we are pro-life and against abortion on demand.
"We wanted to reassure our party members and supporters in this district that we remain true to the values of being a pro-life party."
Mr Savage said his personal experience had led him to oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment.
"I had a son born at 25-and-a-half-weeks gestation," he said.
"He was under two pounds in weight.
"He is now a 20-year-old at university in Liverpool and he is our living miracle."
Mr Savage said there was a need to legislate for "the difficult cases" such as rape and fatal foetal abnormality, although he added that some of his council colleagues were opposed to abortion in all circumstances and he respected their views.
He continued: "The SDLP, contrary to some media interpretations, is and has been from its inception a pro-life party and I want to reassure all our party supporters out there that the SDLP councillors that represent them in Newry, Mourne and Down are unapologetically pro-life.
"We are pro-life with a compassionate understanding of the need to ensure that women who find themselves in the trauma of a crisis pregnancy are given all the medical, emotional and practical support they need."
Of the SDLP's 12 MLAs, only Mr Eastwood and South Belfast representative Claire Hanna came out in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Writing in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, former SDLP MLA Alban Maginness claimed that Mr Eastwood had damaged the party's credibility with his public support for repeal.
"Colum Eastwood is putting himself into a minority position within his own party by gratuitously advocating support for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the south and a 'fit for purpose abortion law' in the north," Mr Maginness said.
"Holding such views and being the leader of the party at the same time sits uneasily with the party's commitment to being a pro-life party."