Holding an ard fheis to update Sinn Féin’s policy on abortion before the referendum to repeal Eighth Amendment to the Constitution could be logistically difficult, party leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.
The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the party is unlikely to change its abortion policy before the intended referendum day of May 25th.
Ms McDonald effectively confirmed this on Thursday, and said there was a very tight timeframe between now and referendum day.
The party is currently in favour of repealing the amendment, and allowing for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where the life or health of the mother is at risk.
However, it is currently not in favour of allowing for abortion without restrictions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – which is the policy that will be put before the Dáil by the Government if the referendum passes.
It means that none of the three major political parties in the Dáil will be in favour of the alternative abortion regime that will be proposed by the Government by the time of the intended May 25th referendum day.
Sinn Féin sources previously said they would change their policy before the referendum, but Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin was “going through a process ourselves as a political party where we are figuring out” how to translate its policy position into legislation.
Those campaigning to retain the Eighth Amendment have identified abortions up to 12 weeks as an issue that could damage the repeal campaign, and the fact that no party will be officially in favour of such a position will further that belief.
“This is a matter I have given a commitment to go back to the party on,” Ms McDonald said.
“It is something that will have to come before the ard fheis. But I want to make this point very clear. In the absence of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, a pre-emptive discussion about legislation actually becomes academic. For us to legislate, and to create a new regulatory system, we first need to get the Eighth Amendment out of the constitution.”
She said any legislation will not come before the Dáil until the autumn.
“Be very clear: we will be out campaigning very vigorously for repeal of the Eighth Amendment. There is a debate to be had, of course, on the legislation. We have a wider timescale than just between now and referendum day.”
Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil will take a formal position during the referendum campaign and TDs in both parties have had the whip lifted for the issue of abortion.
Sinn Féin is working on a comprehensive policy document on women’s health to consider the committee’s findings. Ms McDonald said “the ardfheis will ultimately decide the party’s position in relation to the 12-week proposal”.
The Sinn Féin leader has already said her TDs will not be allowed a vote of conscience on abortion and anyone who deviated from the party line would be disciplined. However, it is understood this will only apply to the Dáil vote on the legislation.