Gerry Adams' pro-choice admission could signal change in Sinn Fein abortion policy
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said he personally supports a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Mr Adams' disclosure conflicts with Sinn Fein's opposition to extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and supporting abortion only in very limited circumstances.
The news comes as women from here are today, for the first, time able to access abortions free of charge through NHS Scotland.
Regulations laid in the Scottish Parliament last month to allow the provision of the service to women from Northern Ireland come into force today.
Mr Adams said it was "unacceptable" that women went to Britain for abortions, and the majority of people wanted to see women dealt with compassionately.
His declaration indicates a change in policy could be looming at the Sinn Fein ard fheis later this month.
Since the 1980s party leaders have argued that changing Sinn Fein's position would cost it votes. While pro-choice activists welcomed Mr Adams' statement, some viewed it as a cynical response to the liberalisation in public opinion on abortion.
Campaigner Goretti Horgan said: "I welcome this development, and it's about time from a party that presents itself as being on the Left and in favour of self-determination.
"But it's hard not to be cynical and to think that Gerry Adams hasn't looked at the opinion polls North and South and thought: 'Now we can do it'."
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll asked why Mr Adams had chosen to reveal his personal opinion after 34 years as Sinn Fein president.
"Is it because there is a movement growing on both sides of the border for abortion rights and his party is dreadfully out of step?" he asked.
"People Before Profit activists have had to endure abuse from Sinn Fein activists over the years for our pro-choice position, so people may find Gerry Adams' statement hard to stomach." Mr Carroll said it was "time for Colum Eastwood (SDLP), the leader of the self-styled party of civil rights, to suddenly discover his 'personal opinion' as well".
He added: "History is knocking at your door."
Sinn Fein currently supports changing abortion laws only in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities, but Mr Adams told The Irish Times his personal position went beyond that.
Asked if he personally supported a woman's right to chose, he said: "Absolutely. I am not in a position to decide, to make judgments, and shouldn't be in a position to make judgments.
"I very clearly have my own position on all of these issues but I am not going to have the opportunity of needing to have an abortion, why should I decide? The doctors and the medical staff should have their very, very clear supremacy, if you like, on all of these issues."
Sinn Fein supports the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Republic's constitution, which gives legal equality to both the mother and unborn child.
Mr Adams said: "My personal position is that it is up to women."
The Scottish Government's offer of free abortions to women from here means the province will be the only part of the UK not to do so, after moves by the parliaments in London and Cardiff. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except where the physical or mental wellbeing of the mother is at risk.