Belfast Telegraph

Local Election 2019

SDLP opposes abortion, insists MLA as Co Tyrone voters tell of their confusion

Daniel McCrossan (centre) canvassing in last year’s West Tyrone by-election
Daniel McCrossan (centre) canvassing in last year’s West Tyrone by-election

By Suzanne Breen, political editor

An SDLP MLA has said his party is strongly opposed to abortion amid reports that some Co Tyrone voters are telling council election canvassers they're confused about its position.

At a special conference last year the SDLP decided that it would allow its representatives and members a conscience vote on abortion issues.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood backed the successful campaign to repeal the eighth amendment in the Republic's constitution and permit abortion.

High-profile South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna also supports a liberalisation of abortion law here, but a majority of the party's elected representatives are understood to oppose it.

The Belfast Telegraph has been told that the abortion issue is being raised constantly on the doorsteps with SDLP canvassers in the council elections in Co Tyrone. Voters reportedly are unclear about the party's position.

Sinn Fein supports liberalising Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

Howver, new republican party Aontu, which is also standing candidates in the local government poll, is strongly opposed to a woman's right to choose.

In a letter in yesterday's Ulster Herald, SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan pledged that his party was firmly against abortion.

"The SDLP is a pro-life party with a longstanding position on the protection of the life of the unborn child," he said.

Mr McCrossan said that the SDLP was opposed to abortion and to any attempt to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

"This remains the party's position as agreed by a significant majority of party members at a recent party conference," he said.

"As MLA for West Tyrone, I remain strongly pro-life and opposed to abortion."

Mr McCrossan said the party had been driven by protecting human life since its foundation.

"We remained steadfast throughout the Troubles in our opposition to political violence by the state and paramilitaries, and put the preservation and protection of life at the very centre of our political work," he said.

"It is those same values that we have brought to bear in the consideration of the protection of the life of the unborn child, the most vulnerable and most unprotected in our society."

Mr McCrossan added that he recognised abortion was "a very contentious subject which arouses great emotional feeling on either side of the debate".

He said compassion and support must be given to women "as they experience difficult pregnancies".

At a special conference in Maghera a year ago, SDLP delegates voted to allow members to vote in accordance with their conscience on abortion in future, even if it goes against party policy.

The conference also reaffirmed the party's pro-life stance.

Ms Hanna supports the legalisation of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape.

East Londonderry MLA John Dallat has also said the law should "reflect compassion" in those cases.

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone has said he will oppose any attempt to change the law and follow in the footsteps of the Republic, allowing abortion up to 12 weeks.

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