Sinn Féin members have given a resounding endorsement to the leadership’s proposals for liberalising the party’s policy on abortion.
Three weeks after the Republic voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the party’s ard fheis backed a motion that will enable Sinn Féin TDs to support the Dublin government’s reform of abortion law. The Fine Gael government is expected to introduce legislation that will enable unlimited access to abortion for up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.
In a debate around women’s health issues that saw many passionate contributions, delegates also rejected a bid to allow elected representatives to dissent from party policy on the basis of conscience.
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Pro-life campaigners protested outside the Waterfront Hall venue on Saturday.
Precious Life spokeswoman Bernie Smith claimed republicans had “declared open war on unborn babies”.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, who introduced the debate on Saturday afternoon, said the party was adopting a “compassionate” policy.
“We recognise that there are sincere strongly held views but we must face the reality that the lives of some women are placed at a real and substantial risk due to their pregnancy,” the Mid Ulster MLA said.
While some delegates did speak in support of maintaining the status quo and for allowing a conscience vote, the majority of contributors gave their backing to the ard chomhairle motion bringing policy into line with the Oireachtas committee recommendations on abortion.
South Armagh MLA Megan Fearon described the outcome of the vote as “very decisive”.
"Gone are the days of criminalising our women and girls here in Ireland,” she said.
"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."
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald reiterated her desire to see abortion law reformed north of the border.
"Every woman who calls this island home must have access to compassionate medical care at home,” she said.