Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein move to soften abortion policy is welcomed

By Suzanne Breen

Amnesty International has welcomed Sinn Fein's vote to significantly liberalise its abortion policy and has called on other parties to follow suit.

However, the Green Party claimed Sinn Fein hadn't gone far enough to uphold a woman's right to choose, while the TUV said the policy went beyond the UK's 1967 Abortion Act.

Sinn Fein delegates overwhelmingly supported a motion allowing abortion where "a woman's life, health or mental health is at risk" and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape or sexual abuse.

The resolution opposed the criminalisation of women who have abortions and committed the party to developing a policy which takes into consideration the recommendations made by a Citizens' Assembly in the Republic on access to abortion.

Delegates rejected a motion supported by anti-abortion TD Peadar Toibin which asked that party members be allowed to vote on the issue according to their conscience.

Welcoming the move, Amnesty's Grainne Teggart said: "At a time when women are actively being criminalised in Northern Ireland, this is an important step on the road to decriminalisation of abortion.

"We call on all parties across the island of Ireland to move to support full decriminalisation of abortion. Criminal law and the threat of punitive sanctions should never be used to control or remove women's and girls' ability to make autonomous decisions around their own reproductive health and lives."

But Green MLA Clare Bailey was disappointed Sinn Fein's new policy didn't go further.

"We had been led to expect that Sinn Fein would be moving along the road to becoming a more progressive party, having argued from an anti-choice position often in the past," she said.

"This move will be welcome news to the women who have gone through horrific experiences and then been doubly traumatised by having to travel and pay for the healthcare they need, but it comes too late for many.

"We welcome Sinn Fein's future support of victims of rape and incest, but remind them that every year hundreds of women from Northern Ireland will still have to travel across the Irish Sea to find the healthcare they need because they are unable to turn to their own health service."

TUV leader Jim Allister said by opting for allowing abortion when a woman's physical or mental health was "at risk", Sinn Fein had gone further than the 1967 Abortion Act.

He said: "Considering that the somewhat tighter wording of the 1967 Act has permitted nine million abortions in the past 50 years, it is indisputable that Sinn Fein's policy now throws open the floodgates to even easier abortion on demand. Of course, considering the IRA never had any qualms about killing either mothers or children, Sinn Fein bringing death to the womb is not a big surprise."

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