Belfast Telegraph

Abortion: Opinions split among key SDLP as calls made for debate on law reform

By Suzanne Breen

Deep divisions have emerged in the SDLP over abortion with some representatives supporting liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland and others remaining strongly opposed to change.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna supports legalisation of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape, with her Stormont colleague John Dallat saying the law should "reflect compassion" in those cases.

Party veteran Brid Rodgers said the law must be changed to help women and it was a clear-cut case of being "pro-choice or anti-choice".

However, West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said he remained firmly opposed to the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

Mid-Ulster representative Patsy McGlone told the Belfast Telegraph he would be against a law allowing abortion up to 12 weeks here as the Republic is on course to introduce.

But SDLP South Belfast member Seamas de Faoite, who is tipped to be a candidate in next year's council elections, called for north-south "regulatory alignment".

Ms Hanna last night said she didn't approach the abortion issue with "the sheer certainty other people at both ends of the debate seem to".

While she supported repealing the Republic's Eighth Amendment, she continued: "I think it was an electoral result based on compassion and walking in the shoes of others but, in honesty, while absorbing the scale of the vote, I didn't receive the result with joy and I understand the upset of many who leaned towards No."

But she said that any new Assembly should move to legislate for cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime.

Mr Dallat said: "The SDLP is a pro-life party and I'm very pro-life. I will watch what kind of legislation emerges in the Dail over the next six months.

"The subject of abortion has been discussed in Stormont before and should be again, although unfortunately the institutions are suspended.

"I'd have great compassion for women in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality and I would like to see that being reflected in law."

Mr McCrossan said he was shocked by the referendum result. He "respected the democratic view of southern voters" but had concerns about "how open-ended" the Republic's new law might be.

The West Tyrone MLA said he had opposed the SDLP moving last month to let members vote according to their conscience on abortion even if it goes against party policy. "I remain strongly pro-life and the SDLP remains a pro-life party," he added.

SDLP South Down MLA Colin McGrath said: "As a democrat, I respect the decision in the Republic's referendum but that doesn't mean I have to agree with it. I am pro-life and always have been. In terms of the north, I remain pro-life."

Mr McGlone said that in the case of abortion "both lives matter as I know from very personal experience". He expressed shock at the referendum result in the south and said he would oppose any attempt to introduce abortion up to 12 weeks here which he saw as "abortion on demand".

Mr De Faoite, a former SDLP Westminster and Assembly candidate, revealed he had campaigned for repeal in the Republic and said Northern Ireland now needed to address the abortion issue.

He said he opposed the extension of the 1967 British Abortion Act to here. "As a republican and a nationalist, I'd prefer to see us aligned with the emerging legislation in the south," he added.

SDLP Belfast councillor Brian Heading said abortion law reform was needed in Northern Ireland. "What we have is inadequate but I'd have to see any proposed legislation before making a decision on it," he added.

SDLP Fermanagh councillor Mary Garrity said: "The Republic voted to repeal the Eighth. I'd have personally voted No had I had the chance to do so."

Ms Garrity said she "politely but strongly" disagreed with party leader Colum Eastwood who supported repeal.

"He is entitled to his view as I am to mine. I recognise there are hard cases but I don't think that abortion is the answer to them," she added.

Ms Rodgers said that when she was in the Irish Senate 25 years ago, she had opposed the Eighth Amendment. "It was harmful to women and never should have been in the constitution in the first place," she said.

"We are all pro-life in this debate. No one is anti-life. What it comes down to is whether you are pro-choice or anti-choice," she added.

Ms Rodgers said abortion law reform must be seriously considered in Northern Ireland.

"We cant keep fooling ourselves into thinking we have no abortion here. Women are taking abortion pills in Northern Ireland. They are travelling to England for abortions and soon they will be going down south too," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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