Abortion: Sinn Fein backs Westminster legislation after near two-week silence

Sinn Fein's leadership has been unusually quiet about its stance on the abortion changes going through Westminster
Sinn Fein's leadership has been unusually quiet about its stance on the abortion changes going through Westminster
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Almost two weeks after Westminster’s momentous vote to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein has come out in support of the move.

However, the party said that after abortion is fully decriminalised there should then be term limits put in place within which abortion would be permissible, although it did not specify which term limit it would support.

Sinn Fein has been unusually cautious in not putting out a clear statement about the landmark Westminster legislation, despite having for some time argued firmly in favour of more limited abortion reform.

The party has been facing lobbying organised by the Catholic church and pro-life groups and criticism from its former TD Peadar Tóibín, who quit the party after being suspended for voting against abortion liberalisation in the south.

Mr Tóibín, who is now the leader of the republican pro-life party Aontú, said it had been “shocking to see the central tenet of self-determination overturned within Sinn Fein” with Mary Lou McDonald going to London to “demand that they legislate for Ireland”.

On Sunday, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC: “I do not believe there is any support at all for a situation where you would have abortion up to 28 weeks. There is no way that would pass through the Assembly in Northern Ireland and I have spoken to Michelle O’Neill about this issue and Sinn Fein does not even support that proposition.”

Yesterday Sinn Fein did not contradict what Mrs Foster had said, but told the Nolan Show that “Arlene Foster should not speak for Sinn Fein”. The party said it did not support the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act – which is less radical than the proposed legislation – to Northern Ireland.

When asked by the News Letter to set out its position on the legislation, Sinn Fein said in a statement: “Sinn Fein supports legislative change in the north and the provision of appropriate, modern and compassionate healthcare services for women across the island.

“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 cases of rape or sexual abuse.

“Sinn Fein supported the Joint Oireachtas Committee findings that it is not possible to legislate for abortion in the case of rape in a compassionate way.

“Abortion without specific indication should be available as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period, which will be informed by the best available medical advice.

“British legislation which criminalises women who have an abortion should be repealed immediately.”

The party said that it wanted “the outstanding rights issues” to be dealt with in Stormont but “in the absence of functioning political institutions the ongoing denial of rights by the DUP is untenable and unacceptable and we have told the British government it has a responsibility to ensure equalisation of rights across the islands as per the Good Friday Agreement”.

Yesterday another amendment to the bill – relating to Brexit – passed the Lords, its final parliamentary hurdle.