The SDLP has derided a claim that one of its senior members “doesn’t trust women” because he is not in favour of abortion.
It said the allegation made by the Green Party against Dr Alasdair McDonnell was “ridiculous”, and highlighted his track record as a politician and clinician.
The slogan “Trust women” has become a widely used rallying cry from activists who campaign for a relaxation of abortion laws on both sides of the Irish border.
It has been used by the Green Party, Workers’ Party – and recently by the UUP MLA Doug Beattie, who wrote on Twitter on March 6: “Being a Unionist doesn’t mean you ... can’t trust women.”
A statement in the name of Green Party leader Steven Agnew this week, explaining the reasons why it was pulling out of pact talks led by the SDLP, had said: “The Green Party could not ask voters to support Alasdair McDonnell [in South Belfast].
“Mr McDonnell doesn’t trust women, as evidenced by his position at the forefront of the SDLP anti-choice policy.”
Dr McDonnell worked as a family GP in south Belfast’s Ormeau district for roughly three decades before retiring from the surgery there.
He is married and has four children including two daughters according to the SDLP website.
He has been MP for South Belfast in 2005.
In response to the Greens’ claim, the SDLP said: “Alasdair McDonnell has served the people of south Belfast with distinction as their MP.
“The suggestion that he doesn’t ‘trust women’ is ridiculous. Having dedicated a lifetime’s work to helping people as a medical professional, Dr McDonnell has cared for and supported people across south Belfast.
“That’s why he has been returned as an MP on three successive elections.”
The anti-abortion group Precious Life said that Dr McDonnell “fully respects and acknowledges that both the mother and her child should be protected under the law in Northern Ireland”.
It said the Green Party’s remarks were a “bitter, uncompromising statement”.
In 2015, Dr McDonnell faced controversy after stating his party’s opposition to allowing abortions for women whose unborn babies have been assessed as having no chance of survival outside the womb.
He had told the BBC’s Inside Politics show that “nobody can predict that a foetus is not viable,” and that predictions were “never accurate”.
In response, Breedagh Hughes of the Royal College of Midwives had suggested that he should visit a hospital to learn “how sophisticated the latest diagnostic techniques are”. He later clarified that he was not saying “doctors always get it wrong” in such cases.
The Royal College of Midwives (representing about 1,500 staff in the Province) supports a campaign of the British Pregnancy Advice Service called ‘Trust Women’ which calls for the decriminalisation of abortion. The college has also supported the idea of midwives being able to exercise concientious objection to abortion.
When the Green Party’s comments about Dr McDonnell were put to Ms Hughes, she said they had no comment to make.
“That’s for them to have a political spat and fight about,” she said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that when you get into this sort of political debate, for want of a better word, very often the people who have no say in the argument are the women involved.”