The wording of Sinn Fein’s proposed new abortion policy has been described as “gravely immoral” by a pro-life campaigner because it will explicitly bar legislators from voting according to their consciences.
The motion being put before the party’s ard fheis in Belfast on Saturday commits all MLAs and TDs to act “in line with the view of the ard chomhairle” (party high council) on the matter – though crucially it does not tie the ard chomhairle itself down to a firm, fixed stance.
While Sinn Fein has indicated to the News Letter it currently supports abortions for any reason up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, the actual wording of the motion refers only to the party leadership being “informed by the best available medical advice” when it comes to deciding upon a non-specific “limited gestational period”.
Frequently, major parties in the British Isles tolerate a diversity of opinions about abortion among members and treat the matter as a conscience issue.
Patrick Buckley, Irish representative for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “The killing of the unborn is a grave injustice, it is morally wrong and can never be justified irrespective of whether the termination occurs within 12 weeks or thereafter.
“The right to life of any human being should never be put to a vote, and it is gravely immoral to attempt to force members of any political party to act against his or her conscience.”
Sinn Fein said its present stance is that “abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and in the case of rape or sexual abuse”.
The wording of the new motion which the ard chomhairle is proposing to members on Saturday is this:
“This ard fheis reasserts that abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality;
“Supports the Joint Oireachtas Committee findings that it is not possible to legislate for abortion in the case of rape in a compassionate way;
“Recognises that Irish women already access abortion services every day in other countries or through abortion pills purchased online without any medical supervision;
“Accepts that abortion without specific indication should be available through a GP-led service in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period.
“Sinn Fein members of a legislature shall act in line with the view of the ard chomhairle which will be informed by the best available medical advice, when legislating regarding the limited gestational period.”
If it passes, it will become binding party policy both north and south of the border.
The line about rape refers to a report by the committee last December which essentially said because of the difficulty in proving that a woman has been raped, abortion should simply be given to women up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy without demanding a reason.