Sinn Féin delegates support abortion for fatal foetal abnormalities

Just one speaker opposes measures as party also votes for repeal of 8th amendment

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the party’s ardfheis in Millennium Forum, Derry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the party’s ardfheis in Millennium Forum, Derry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Sinn Féin members have voted by a sizeable majority in favour of giving women the choice to have an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

As about 20 anti-abortion protestors demonstrated outside the ardfheis in Derry’s Millennium Forum, just one of more than a dozen speakers spoke against abortion in such cases.

The party also supported the repeal of the 8th amendment to the Constitution which prohibits abortion.

The party’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin had asked the ardfheis to support the ardchomhairle’s motion calling for a legal framework in the North and South that would allow women to access abortion services in limited circumstances but would also support women who wished to continue with a pregnancy.

The motion acknowledged the issue of fatal foetal abnormality as complex and requiring compassion and Mr Ó Caoláin told delegates the motion was not prescriptive, “but offers support whatever the woman decides”.

But Sean Ó Tuama from Co Cork warned delegates that “the first consequence of abortion in any circumstance is the ending of the life of the unborn”.

Asking people to support a motion protecting the right to life of the unborn, he said nobody could predict what would happen on birth and he said there were people alive including a “great republican” who would not be around if abortion were legal.

Mr Ó Tuama said the party should not rush on this issue just because other parties did. He also said the party would be going against the views of a large section of society - Catholics.

He described the national executive’s motion as an attempt to “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds”.

The party’s jobs spokesman Peadar Tóibín, who has said he would vote against the measure, previously lost the party whip when he opposed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. He had been in the queue of speakers during the debate but left without addressing the ardfheis. Afterwards, he said he had to leave to chair a debate on trade and was disappointed not to have spoken.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said “the decent thing, the right thing and the republican thing to do is to support” women faced with fatal foetal abnormality and give them the dignity and small comfort to allow termination.

She said that anyone who had heard testimony of families faced with fatal foetal abnormality and its “unspeakable trauma”, could not but understand “their absolute entitlement” to compassion, support “and above all, choice”.

She said some women would choose to continue with their pregnancy but for others that was an “unspeakable cruelty”.

An NUI Galway delegate supporting the motion said “women are not incubators”.

Emma McArdle from South Armagh said it had always been a man’s world and for centuries women were denied the most basic rights. “Women were breeders and that was that.”

She hit out at the PSNI telling girls that alcohol was the number one rape drug. “How about telling boys not to rape girls,” she said.

She said women did not need a “posse of politician obstetricians”

She said that for women who did not wish to continue a pregnancy “she should be able to make that decision have the support and medical intervention she requires”.

Cathal Ó hOisín, from Dungiven, Co Derry spoke of his wife and another woman being faced with fatal foetal abnormality halfway through their pregnancies. He said the North’s Attorney General had warned of the danger under current law that women could be arrested and face life sentences.

“If we don’t want to run the chance of criminalising our women” he said they should approach this issue with humanity and compassion.