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Sinn Fein votes to back relaxation of abortion laws

Party backs motion to support reform following historic referendum vote in Republic

Tom Barnes
Saturday 16 June 2018 22:58 BST
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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) and deputy leader Michelle O'Neill at a pro-choice rally in Dublin in May
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) and deputy leader Michelle O'Neill at a pro-choice rally in Dublin in May (Getty)

Sinn Fein has voted “decisively” to support the liberalisation of abortion law across the island of Ireland following the historic vote to legalise the procedure in the Republic.

Party members overwhelmingly backed a motion calling to terminations to be provided through a GP-led service for a “limited gestational period”.

The republican party, an influential voice in politics both north and south of the border in Ireland, had previously supported abortion only in cases of rape, incest or “fatal foetal abnormalities”.

The vote recognised last month’s referendum decision of the people of the Irish Republic to overturn a constitutional provision which outlawed terminations in most cases, and makes support for relaxation party policy in both countries.

Following the passing of the reforming motion at Sinn Fein’s annual meeting in Belfast, senior party members at said loosening restrictions north of the border was the next priority.

“Today’s result was very decisive, overwhelmingly we clearly said we support women, we are going to treat women with compassion,” said Stormont assembly member Megan Fearon.

“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 is expected to make abortion freely available under medical supervision in the Republic up to the twelfth week of 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.

It has also put pressure on Theresa May to bring regulations in line in Northern Ireland, the only region of the United Kingdom where abortion remains legal only in a handful of circumstances.

However, the prime minister faces opposition from her Westminster allies the DUP, the largest voice in Northern Irish unionism, which staunchly opposes relaxing restrictions there.

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.

Additional reporting by PA

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