Belfast Telegraph

Abortion law liberalisation backed decisively by Sinn Fein members

The party said the result showed it would treat women with compassion.

Sinn Fein has voted “decisively” to liberalise abortion law across Ireland.

Party members overwhelmingly said the procedure should be provided through a GP-led service for a “limited gestational period”.

They represent an influential voice in politics north and south of the Irish border.

Vice president Michelle O’Neill said: “Sinn Fein refuses to hide. It will address this issue with compassion and will show the leadership that is required.”

The poll of grassroots republicans recognised last month’s referendum decision of the people of the Irish Republic to overturn a constitutional provision which outlawed terminations in most cases.

It was the latest in a series of conservative shibboleths to be abandoned in what the Irish premier termed the culmination of a “quiet revolution” in social attitudes.

Some opposition to reform was expressed during Sinn Fein’s annual meeting in Belfast – Wexford councillor Oisin O’Connell said it placed the value of the unborn at “zero”.

Following the passing of the reforming motion, senior party members said loosening restrictions north of the border was the next priority.

The motion endorsed by delegates at the ard fheis (party conference) said the procedure should be provided through a GP-led service in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period.

No exact period was fixed to allow for future changes in medical advice; debate surrounds when a baby is potentially viable outside the womb.

The party also decided terminations should be available where a woman’s life, physical or mental health was at risk and, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, where an infant could not survive.

Stormont Assembly member Megan Fearon said: “I think today’s result was very decisive, overwhelmingly we clearly said we support women, we are going to treat women with compassion.

“Gone are the days of criminalising our women and girls here in Ireland.

“What we need to see is compassionate healthcare and we need to allow women access to safe and appropriate healthcare when they need it here at home.”

New legislation implementing the Irish poll’s overwhelming two-to-one verdict in favour of making the procedure available will be introduced in the new year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

It will make abortion freely available under medical supervision during early pregnancy and in limited circumstances later.

The referendum vote was lauded by proponents as a modernising and compassionate step for women after a fierce debate during which opponents including the Catholic church argued that the unborn baby’s right to life was sacrosanct.

Sinn Fein is a major force in opposition to the Fine Gael-led Republic’s Government and during the referendum campaign contained voices for and against abortion.

It is the majority voice of nationalism in Northern Ireland and hopes to make gains in the Republic’s next general election.

Ireland’s historically Catholic Church-dominated society of decades past has liberalised in recent years, with public polls in favour of divorce, same-sex marriage and access to terminations.

Theresa May’s DUP allies, the largest voice in Northern Irish unionism, staunchly opposes relaxing restrictions there.

MEP Martina Anderson claimed: “The North is next.”

The debate has intensified since the outcome of the referendum, with the British Government resisting renewed calls to step in and legislate in Northern Ireland in the continuing absence of a powersharing government in Belfast.

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