Belfast Telegraph

SDLP gives members 'free' vote on abortion

By Jonathan Bell

SDLP members have been allowed the freedom to vote as they see fit on abortion matters - even if it goes against the party's stated pro-life position.

Around 100 members of the party attended a special conference on Saturday.

A protest was staged outside the Maghera venue by campaigners of the anti-abortion group Precious Life and there were reports of confrontations as delegates entered.

In a one-line statement on Saturday evening, the party said: "The SDLP membership reaffirmed our position as a pro-life party.

"The conference also supported freedom of conscience voting for elected representatives."

The party's easing of restrictions comes ahead of Friday's vote in the Republic on the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution on its strict abortion laws.

The vote means SDLP members are free to voice their opinions on the referendum.

The BBC reported both party leader Colum Eastwood and his deputy Nichola Mallon supported a free vote.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna tweeted afterwards: "Glad to have spoken in favour and for SDLP members to have adopted a policy of conscience on issues related to abortion. Was also glad to have the opportunity to tell Precious Life directly that they have no moral authority and their campaigning tactics and bullying are reprehensible."

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