Sinn Fein has defended abstaining on a vote to amend Northern Ireland’s abortion laws to prevent procedures being carried out in the cases of non-fatal disabilities, which was passed by the Assembly.
DUP MLA Paul Givan presented the Severe Foetal Impairment Abortion Bill before the Assembly on Monday, urging MLAs to back the move to “tackle disability discrimination”.
The Private Member’s Bill seeks to prevent abortions being carried out in cases of non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome.
Assembly Members voted 48 votes to 12 to pass the Bill on to the second stage. Sinn Fein abstained.
Reacting to the vote, a party spokesperson said this afternoon: “Sinn Féin believes abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
“We are also strongly of the view that previous legislation on abortion was failing women in the north and was incompatible with human rights law, so change was required to avoid further trauma for victims of rape or incest and to remove barriers to access for victims of sexual crime.
“There is now a legal entitlement to modern, compassionate healthcare services for women but those services have still not been put in place by the Department of Health.
“Sinn Féin believes the focus should now be on addressing that deficit.
“The British Government in response to the DUP's proposed bill have also said publicly that they will ensure that abortion legislation remains in line with CEDAW and therefore the DUP are aware that it will have no material effect. Instead, the DUP aims to pit one vulnerable group of people against another.
“For that reason Sinn Féin abstained on the vote on the DUP Bill.
“We recognise this is a hugely sensitive and emotive issue and we are calling on the Health Minister to end the ambiguity by putting the appropriate services in place for the benefit of women and healthcare providers.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill told Monday's debate that the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Health Minister Robin Swann were "failing" women by refusing to commission services legislated for long ago.
Sinn Fein’s vice-president added: "Women are entitled to have compassionate healthcare.
"It is a human right to have compassionate healthcare and should be the focus of what this assembly is concerned about."
Mrs O'Neill said her party's Assembly members would abstain from the vote.
She expressed "deep unease" at the "narrow focus" of the Bill.
"Women are entitled to modern and compassionate health care," she said.
She added: "The sponsor of the Bill is focused on rolling back the legislation."
She said it ignored the failure to introduce abortion services in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s previously restrictive laws were changed by MPs at Westminster in 2019 at a time when the Stormont administration was collapsed.
The laws allow abortion in all circumstances up to 12 weeks.
Terminations are permitted up to 24 weeks when there is a risk to the woman’s physical or mental health.
There is no time limit in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or when there has been a diagnosis of a serious physical or mental impairment that would cause a serious disability.