Sinn Féin unlikely to change position on abortion before referendum
Party now opposes terminations up to 12 weeks and must hold ardfheis to propose change
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald with supporters. The party is unlikely to hold an ardfheis to update its abortion policy before the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment is held. Photograph Nick Bradshaw.
Sinn Féin is unlikely to hold an ardfheis to update its abortion policy before the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment is held.
The party is currently in favour of repeal and allowing for abortion in a specific set of circumstances. 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 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.
Those campaigning to retain the Eighth Amendment have identified abortions up to 12 weeks as an issue that could damage the repeal campaign.
Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil will take a formal position during the referendum campaign and, while Sinn Féin is in favour of repeal, its current party policy does not favour unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.
The proposal to allow for abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy was made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
The current Sinn Féin position is to allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where the health of the mother is at risk. The party is likely to move towards the 12 weeks position but it must be ratified by an ardfheis to make it official policy.
Sources said party officials are having difficulty locating a suitable venue to hold an ardfheis - likely to deal with a wide range of policy issues aside from abortion in advance of a potential autumn general election - before the referendum.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has said Sinn Féin is working on a comprehensive policy document on women’s health to consider the committee’s findings. She said “the ardfheis will ultimately decide the party’s position in relation to the 12 week proposal”.
If the referendum is passed, the legislation on terminations up to 12 weeks will not come before the Dáil until the autumn, and it is understood that Sinn Féin will have taken a position on it by then.
However, the party’s ard chomhairle may say that it will be supporting the thrust of the policy document at the future ardfheis.
In effect, this would allow TDs, senators and party members to take different views on the 12 weeks proposal in advance of the referendum because it will not have been formally adopted as party policy.
Individual TDs could campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace it with a clause allowing for the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion, which will be the question posed in the referendum.
During the campaign, Sinn Féin TDs could say they will argue for the 12 week proposal to be made party policy at the ard fheis after the referendum.
Ms McDonald has already said her TDs will not be allowed be allowed a vote of conscience on abortion and anyone who deviates from the party line will be disciplined. However, it is understood this will only apply to the Dáil vote on the legislation.