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Former MLA says Sinn Féin will support abortion law

Demonstrators at September's March for Choice in Dublin. Picture by Tom Honan/PA Wire

A former Sinn Féin MLA believes the party is due to move to a position that broadly advocates Britain's 1967 Abortion Act.

Daithí McKay said that if a expected motion to include terminations to protect the life and health of the mother carries at this weekend's ard fheis then it will signal a "radical" shift in party policy.

Sinn Féin's current policy advocates a repeal of the Republic's Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and support for legislation to allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

However, in the wake of recent comments by president Gerry Adams, the party is expected to move to a more liberal position at this weekend's ard fheis in Dublin.

A number of changes to Sinn Féin's abortion policy will be debated at the RDS on Friday and Saturday, however, the only motion expected to be carried is one allowing abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, incest and where the mother's health is at risk.

Mr McKay said endorsement of such a policy would mean the party was "broadly in line" with the 1967 Abortion Act that operates in Britain.

"The proposal from the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle is more radical than perhaps some people are interpreting," the former North Antrim MLA told The Irish News.

"By including women's health, the stance is broadly in line with the policy intentions of the 1967 act."

Mr McKay said there were direct comparisons between the present circumstances in Ireland and those which led Britain to amend its abortion laws in the late 1960s.

"The 1967 act came about as a result of concerns at Westminster in the 1960s about women's health and protecting women's health during pregnancy," he said.

"There are many parallels with the current debate around abortion in Ireland with that which occurred in Britain 50 years ago."

Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said Mr Adams's recent comments on abortion reflected support for the terms of the UK's 1967 Abortion Act.

"In saying that it was a women's choice whether she had an abortion or not Adams is effectively voicing support for the 1967 act," he said.

"Obviously he couldn't pre-empt the decision of the ard fheis but that looks like a pretty clear steer."

Mr Feeney said the party's supporters in the north were more conservative than their counterparts in the south but that a change in abortion policy was unlikely to translate into electoral damage.

Last week, Sinn Féin pro-life TD Peadar Tóibín told The Irish News that he believed the party would not change its policy on abortion at the ard fheis.

The West Meath TD, who lost the party whip in 2013 after he voted against the party position on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in the Dáil, said he hoped members would support a bid to allow elected representatives a 'conscience vote'.

At the weekend, Mr Tóibín criticised the Oireachtas committee on the eighth amendment for an imbalance in its list of witnesses.

He was in turn criticised by other Sinn Féin representatives, including former Belfast councillor Eoin Ó Broin, a close ally of Mr Adams.

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